Chapter 11: Thin Air

Chapter 11 - Thin Air

The Slave Quarters
Chapter 11: Thin Air
By Rock Kitaro

This is where she died. KeNedra Thompson, age 15, of Cedar Creek High School. She planted her hands against the yellow brick walls and proceeded to bash her head in.

I’m sitting on the floor of the interrogation room with my back against the wall, staring up at the spot where flesh met cement. It’s a blotchy spot, lighter than the surrounding surface area, suggesting the walls haven’t been scrubbed for years and it was just the blood that the janitor focused on cleaning.

I’ve been staring at this same spot for over fifteen minutes, nearing the eleven o’clock hour. A single lamp lights the room. There are overheads, but I left them off on purpose. I wanted the shadows, not out of some dramatic flair but it was the shadows that spoke to me.

However, at the moment, it’s only Maggie’s apparition standing in the corner to my left. As ever, she’s scowling with those squinty dark eyes, her Betty Paige bangs, her sooty school dress. Even in a calm state, her presence is unnerving. She has a cruel tendency to charge at me, without warning and quicker than a bolt of lightning. It’s like being in a room with coiled rattlesnake, primed strike at any moment. That I haven’t developed PTSD or some kind twitch is a miracle in of itself.

KeNedra…where are you? Why won’t you show yourself to me? I’m here to help.

The cameras are recording, so I have to be careful about what I say out loud. Scattered before me is my computer tablet and the photos and dossiers of all six victims, the deceased majorettes. I have statements collected by detectives. Maps highlighting the distance between the plantations and the victims’ homes. Only two conclusive autopsies. KeNedra Thompson’s and Tiquasia Payne’s.

Let’s see… If I was in KeNedra’s shoes what would I be thinking?

KeNedra just finished telling the detectives about how she woke up in the slave quarters when she heard the screaming, Tiquasia’s screaming. She saw the killer jump on Tiquasia and drag her back into the other compartment. I’m assuming it’s through the hole in the wall that got me dirty. KeNedra recalled how the killer beat Tiquasia to death with a rock or a brick. It was then that desperation kicked in and KeNedra broke free from the chains and ran off into the cotton fields. After that, paramedics found her staggering along Peach Orchard. This was what KeNedra told the first detective.

I remember the video. I’ve replayed it over a dozen times and it’s always the same. As she recounts what happened, KeNedra appears cooperative, coherent. Yes, she’s despondent but there’s sliver of hope. It isn’t until the detective asks KeNedra if she recognized the killer that all hope goes up in smoke. I’ve seen that look before. Any guard patrolling death row would recognize it. When an individual acknowledges their inevitable death, they resign themselves. The light goes out of their eyes and they simply let go of everything attached to the living world.

That’s what’s bugging me. According to her friends and family, KeNedra wasn’t the type to give up so easily. I went to her MeBook page and downloaded photos from her profile to my phone. I saw videos of her protests against police brutality, a calling for an end of black-on-black violence. KeNedra was strong and courageous. If history’s taught me anything, people like this only commit suicide for martyrdom or to protect someone they love. Either way, why would she kill herself in such a brutal fashion? Was it haste or impulse? Did she recognize the killer and would rather die than give him up? Was it her brothers?

The light bulb goes off as I begin to settle on the idea that it just could very well be her brothers, Jamar or O’Shea. Both were tall and strong enough. But at the same time, their familial bond was solid. If one of them was a rapist and a killer, I can’t see them harming their own sister. The passion at the Thompson residence wasn’t fake.

Great…Then, why else would KeNedra commit suicide? Why isn’t her spirit in this room? Was she truly possessed?

A frustrated groan vibrates from the back of my throat.

“She’s not here! The girl, you’re looking for,” Maggie says with crossed arms.

My eyes lock with Maggie’s. She’s not lying, or at least it didn’t seem like she was. Where would KeNedra’s ghost be if not in the place of her death? Is there a difference between suicide victims and murdered victims?

I’m focusing too much on the paranormal. I’m missing something and my brain is about to burst. After picking myself up with stiffness in my joints, I step out into the hall to call my good friend, Miranda Burnette. It’s pretty late but I know she’s still up. If she went out with her girlfriends after that spin class, chances are they hit up the bar to treat themselves.

The phone rings as I glance over my shoulder to make sure I’m still alone. There isn’t a soul in sight, save for Maggie’s silhouette standing in the dark end of the hallway under a red exit sign. So cliché…

“Hey bubblehead. What chu you doin?” Miranda answers.

She sounds groggy. I wonder if I’m wasting my time.

“Miranda…I’m stumped. After five years, one would think I’d have the rules of dead locked down, but at present, I’m at my wit’s end.”

“What? Boy, get some sleep. You just need to lay your head down and give that brain of yours a few hours’ rest.”

I don’t respond. I don’t want to disclose the evening’s events because I already know what she’s going to say. Which is stupid. Giving in to my lust and bedding Jessica won’t solve anything. It’d be like scratching an itch and spreading the disease.

I just want to focus on the case and take my mind off of her. Right now, the police are settled on this idiot, J-Poopy being the main suspect. Come morning when he turns himself in, I have no doubt he’ll say some dumb shit that’ll only dig himself a deeper hole. And to be honest, I don’t care about that. It’s what he gets for harassing minors.

The problem is this case wasn’t assigned to me. If Jessica and Leanne thinks the case is closed, I’ll have to go back and KeNedra’s killer will likely keep doing his thing but in a different city with a different MO. This I cannot allow.

A minute goes by before Miranda asks, “What’s on your mind, Cloud?”

I glance over my shoulder once more. Then, I unload.

“I just spent nearly an hour sitting in the interrogation room where KeNedra committed suicide. But her ghost’s not there. When I went to the plantation, I heard the sounds of dozens of slaves humming, singing the gospels. And every time I go to a cemetery, I’m bombarded with screams but I know people didn’t die right there in their graves. It doesn’t make sense. I’m at a loss, Miranda. I really need to find KeNedra’s ghost.”

“Yeah, you really need some sleep.”

“I can’t do that right now, Miranda. I just can’t.” I whisper hopelessly.

“You know this isn’t healthy. You gotta learn to your mind off.”

I don’t respond. I’m bout ready to hang up.

“All right! Well I’m just gonna spit-ball it okay.” She warns.

“I’m down for whatever, Miranda.”

“You say KeNedra had a strong personality, which is why for some reason you refuse to believe she committed suicide of her own free will. A strong personality, Cloud. One might even say, KeNedra had a resistant personality. Somewhat rebellious. Now, who does this remind you of? What dead person, do you know, is strong and rebellious out the wazoo? Didn’t you say Maggie is bound to that necklace you’re wearing? It belonged to her, right? What if KeNedra is bound to something that once to belong to her? Cloud, don’t tell me you haven’t thought about that yet. This is why you need some sleep. Wit’ ‘cha dumb ass.”

If a mirror was in front of me, I’d be glaring at myself. Miranda’s right. I am a dumbass. When I first met Maggie she was confined to the third floor of a campus library. It used to be the girl’s dormitory where her sorority sisters pushed Maggie to her death. Maggie was murdered there, yet she’s with me, her soul bonded to the necklace. I pat my chest. The coral encrusted black pearl necklace pricks at my skin, reminding me it’s there.

“Cloud? You there?”

“You have a point.” I grumble, hurrying back into the interrogation room. Sliding to my knees, I whip out the printed pictures from KeNedra’s file, her social media page.

“Maggie once told me this necklace was one of her favorite things in the world. She wore it everyday. KeNedra was a dancer. It was her life. Sure she was an activist of sorts, but all of her friends were majorettes. They depended on her, their rock.”

“You’re thinking she might have worn some lucky sweatband or bracelet?” Miranda asks.

“Something like that. I’m looking at these pictures. Nothing jumps out.”

“She’s not wearing any accessories?” Miranda asks.

“That’s the thing! She’s wearing all kinds of crap. Streamers, stickers, rings, wristbands, you name it. All in school colors of blue and yellow. In every picture, she’s wearing something different. God, it’s like costume jewelry.”

“Then look for something that doesn’t stand out. She was a majorette, meaning she’s bucking and getting down. Think like an athlete. You’re moving, you’re sweating, hustling, but there’s something you cherish, something you always have to have with you no matter what. What would it be?”

Scoffing with a smile, I want to slap myself for not noticing it sooner. “Miranda, I could kiss you.”

“Haha! What did you find?”

“It’s so simple. I’m over here thinking it’s gotta be some family heirloom, expensive and glamorous but it’s not. In every picture, team photos and photos from the competition she’s wearing a silver hair barrette. It’s dull and small, maybe two or three inches. There’s nothing fancy about it other than its textured tapestry design. It’s holding back a part in her hair near the upper left corner of her forehead like the cowlick I used to have.”

“Wait, let me ask you this.” Miranda says. “Check the dates. Is she wearing the same barrette over a period of say, six months to a year?”

“Yeah. This one dates back to 2014. This one’s 2015. She’s wearing it on competition days and when she’s dressed in her Sunday’s best. As seen in this church picture of her and her mom.”

“I think that’s it then. I think this silver barrette might just your key to finding KeNedra. Hair barrettes are fragile. They break easy and they’re easy to lose, especially for a majorette. For her to hold on the same one for so long, I’d say it means something to her. So just check with her family again to see if the barrette’s at the house.”

I consider her suggestion. I remember the door to KeNedra’s room was close. The barrette might be there. But what are the odds that this was the one day KeNedra decided to leave home without it. Nah, it’s more likely she was abducted with it on.

“I’m reading the police reports. When she was found, she didn’t have any belongings on her aside from her majorette jumpsuit. No phone. No watch. No purse or any kind of identification. Miranda, I’m thinking the barrette’s still out in the cotton fields.”

“Oh no. Don’t tell me you’re going back out there tonight?”

“Got nothin’ better to do,” I smirk.

“SLEEP, DUMMY!”

“Thanks, Miranda. I really appreciate it. Your skills tracking down suckers and serving them subpoenas seems to be paying off.”

“Wait, Cloud. Before you do that, check with the paramedics who picked her up. You said hair barrette. But I was thinking more of a wallet or keychain. You said the police report didn’t find her with any belongings? I bet the EMTs stole it. You’d be surprised how many reports I come across about EMTs copping a feel on girls while they’re unconscious. Pick-pocketing ain’t uncommon either.”

“Miranda, I’m not sure…”

“Boy, you woke me up in the middle of the night! Just do me a favor and talk to the paramedics. Feel em out. It might even save you a trip to the cotton-pickin cotton fields. Hell, if I was there I’d go with you.”

“Alright. I’ll see what these paramedics are all about and give you a call tomorrow. Seriously, thanks for everything. Good night.”

I hang up and just stand there like an idiot. I should have noticed sooner. I don’t want to blame a certain beauty for clouding my observation, but damn! In any other case these clues would be screaming my name.

In KeNedra’s video, her wrists were broken from having wrested herself free from the chains. Her hands were dangling like twigs on a branch. Any experienced paramedic would have noticed something like that. In fact, providing medical attention should have been their chief concern. But KeNedra went completely untreated. No splint. No bandages. Nothing. So, what in the actual fuck?

Alright then… It’s time to either get some answers or get some people fired. It’s as simple as that.

Augusta Medical Center is a four-story hospital in the heart of Walton Way’s busy restaurant district. It’s the main hub for the Halo-Star Medical Transportation Services.

“Kill Crystianne!”

Maggie’s harrowing whisper blends with the howl of the frosty wind. It waves and combs through the pair of towering evergreens stationed in the front courtyard. Tuesday night had just faded into Wednesday and the clouds made way to a starry sky. I’m only one of a few cars in the lot so I park closer to the loading zone.

“Kill Crystianne!” the whisper was louder.

Friggin, Maggie…

I find myself just standing in place, staring up at the trees. I’m still wearing the same black shoulder-padded sweater over a tucked-in blue collared shirt and khaki pants. When I stepped out for dinner I hadn’t planned on coming here, but I’m glad I chose the attire. Temperatures had plummeted with an icy breeze stinging my cheeks, but my chest is warm and snug. Feels like I’m wearing a bulletproof vest. It’s a safe and secure feeling.

I put on my game-face and adapt the mentality of a suave secret agent. A smirk of excitement surfaces but I suppress it. That’s not cool. A secret agent isn’t giddy.

Every hospital smells the same: dust, rubber, and the scent of pine cleaner. Only half of the overhead lights are on. The reception lobby is a spacious atrium with a view of the 2nd and 3rd floor walkways. An elderly woman is asleep in waiting room. The TV is muted in favor of closed captioning, so she’s passed out, not moving an inch even when the bell chimes from my entering the sliding doors. No one’s at the reception desk initially, but a heavyset Filipino woman steps out from a closed door to greet me.

Her name is Amanda Nunez. She’s younger than me, probably still in college working on some medical degree. Her infatuation is obvious by the way she struggles to find words she routinely uses on every other guest. And while I try to remain humble, I can’t help but notice the way her swivel chair sinks a great deal when she sits down. It’s unsightly. So badly I want to tell her that she still has time. It’s never too late to start working out and losing weight. I’ve been there.

I inquire about Halo-Star’s ambulance service. She tells me their main hub is on the other side of the building, near the ER wing and the trucking bays. She asks who I’m looking for but I’ve done this before. I’ve given someone a name and that someone turned around and warned the person I was looking for. However, I think Amanda’s alright.

“Calvin Chalmers and Jason Hicks.”

She giggles. “Oh! They should be here. I think they just brought in a man from the shelter. He was complaining of chest pains so the doctors are running an ECG on him.”

“Thank you, darlin. You said its outside and to my right?”

“Yes. Or you can just go through these hallways here and just follow the signs.”

I wink with a smile. “Maybe next time. Feels good out here.”

“Enjoy it while it lasts!” She gawks.

Such a lovely girl. I hope she has someone in her life strong enough to give her prudent advice. I’m not fat shaming her, just thinking about her health and well-being. As anyone who cares, should.

White stake-driven lamps illuminate the wide cement paved walkway. The path is lined by beautiful red mulch of rich pine and leafy bushes I can’t identify. Overall, the landscaping looks really nice. It’s a pleasant stroll around the building.

Walton Way is the busy six-lane road beyond the perimeter brick wall. It gets me reminiscing. I remember as a teen riding with my mother to our favorite Italian restaurant a couple of blocks away. There was always a long wait time to be seated. My mom could barely afford the restaurant but I think what hurt the most was that she wished we could have been like the other families.

As we waited, I remember seeing all the other families come in with smiles of joy, moms and dads and siblings. They’d look at us like trailer park trash. My mom was a waitress, only thirty-one, dressed in what she thought was decent formal attire. Barely fifteen years younger, I was a sixteen-year-old closing in on 300lbs with bad acne and a default expression of agitation. I hardly ever smiled back then. Even when I tried, it usually hurt my face because I wasn’t used to it.

I don’t hate this city. I hate my memories of it. Mother nature senses my angst and spits in my face with this scraping wind.

Looking up, I spot lights on in various offices throughout the façade. The hospital looks new, clean with a smooth marble exterior. This wasn’t the hospital I came to when I was a kid. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not even sure which hospital I was born in, or if I was born in Augusta at all. I never wondered.

Rounding the corner of the building, the walkway fans out like a delta into an asphalt clearing and another parking lot. To my right, I see the automated glass entrance to the ER wing. To my left, I see a parking lot filled with more cars than the general parking area. I see four Halo-Star ambulances, painted in orange and white.

Two bearded paramedics are smoking cigarettes as they stand behind one of the ambulances. I assume it’s a slow night and that’s their assigned vehicle. I could go and ask them about Calvin and Jason, but it appears they’re in the middle of some aggressive debate. Not to mention, the bearded folk tend to think I’m gay for some reason.

Moseying on towards the sliding glass doors, I refresh my memory with the information I pulled at the station.

Jason Hicks is an Augusta State graduate with a bachelors in Physical Therapy. He’s a dark toned African-American, a six-footer with a lean athletic build and slanted almost Chinese looking eyes. 28-years old and still wearing cornrolls according to his most recent MeBook pic. He played corner for Blyth Central High and was apparently really good. They offered him a full ride at UGA but due to “personal issues,” he opted to give up football and stay close to home.

I looked into those “personal issues.” According to an old UGA newsletter, there was a scandal involving the coach’s wife. She accused Jason of rape but recanted her story when multiple sources claimed the wife bragged about a more consensual experience, not just with Hicks, but other recruits. Either way, the program couldn’t afford have this tarnishing their season so the coach’s wife dropped all charges and Jason agreeing to stay away from UGA.

Since then, he’s been on the straight and narrow. No arrests. No convictions. Not even a ticket. He’s kept the same apartment for the past six years and his DMV and tax filings all check out. Seems he’s still a sex fiend though. His MeBook and Flitter pages are filled to the brim with photos of the sexiest women I’ve ever seen. This guy is everywhere, a womanizer to the highest degree. I know they say, “don’t hate the player, hate the game” but damn. It’s not like his profile has advanced security settings. The ladies know he’s a player. They just don’t care.

29-year-old Calvin Chalmers is just as good looking and athletic as his partner. He’s also African-American but with a lighter complexion and a military buzz cut. Calvin’s a little bit taller at 6 foot 3, having played shooting guard for Morgan Road High. He was offered a scholarship at Georgia Tech, but got into a fight with another player during a routine practice.

Both players were arrested but I could tell there was a clear winner from that fight. Calvin’s booking photo looked like a headshot for a modeling agency. It could have gone viral. He was completely unblemished while the other guy was glistening with sweat, bruises, and swollen cheeks. His right eye was almost completely shut and his lip was split open. It was nasty.

Seems Mr. Chalmers has some anger issues. His juvenile record is riddled with fights all during middle school. Calvin’s parents divorced when he was little and he was mostly raised by his older sister. After getting kicked out of Georgia Tech, Calvin attended Augusta State majoring in Social Work. He wanted to be an anger management counselor but I’m guessing he gave up on that when he found he’d need his masters. Not sure what qualified him to be a paramedic, but he’s managed to hold the job down for six years.

Unlike Jason’s, Calvin’s social media page doesn’t show a lot of friends. There’s a few pictures of his mom, his sister and his sister’s children, but most of his photos show him by himself, staring into the camera with a dreamy far off look. Almost every photo received over fifty “likes” with the same amount of praise. He’s listed as single and lives with his mother. I wonder if he’s living with her to take care of her. This is premature, but despite his rocky past, I’m sensing Calvin’s a good guy. I understand him, the rage. Hell, I could even be him.

The sliding glass doors open. I lock eyes with Calvin as soon as I enter. He’s standing next to the reception desk as Jason’s leaning over to flirt with the receptionist. Calvin and Jason are both wearing dark blue coveralls with the orange and white Halo-Star logo over their hearts. Radio handsets are strapped to their left shoulder and their sleeves are rolled up to display those strong vascular forearms. Next to Calvin’s boots is a red field bag that looks like its packed so tight its about to bust a seam. For some reason, my eyes are fixated on the bag as I make my approach.

“Can I help you!?”

The receptionist seems bothered by my presence, like I’m interrupting. I thought her tone was rather abrasive so I take my time in ignoring her to scan the lobby. Sixteen patients are waiting to be treated as they sit on hard padded chairs. Two are small children. Three hallways lead out from the lobby. I don’t care to find out which leads where.

I turn and set my eyes on the receptionist. She’s young, black, takes pride in her hair and makeup. I can see why Jason’s giving her the time of day, but why is she treating me like I’m the one who owes her child support?

“Yes?!” She snaps, rolling of her neck.

“Gentlemen. My name is Cloud Beaudry. I’m an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. May I have a word?” I say, flashing my badge.

Jason sucks on his teeth with a dismissive hiss, “We done already gave our statements to the other cops. I got nothing else to say. Ya dig?”

Calvin picks up the red field bag and the two start off for the sliding glass doors. Jason even has the audacity to brush up against my shoulder when there’s plenty of space to avoid contact.

“Either I talk to you two or I talk to your supervisor. Personally, I’d love to tell the entire board about how two paramedics picked up an injured young woman and offered absolutely no medical treatment.” I say loud enough for the lobby to hear.

Calvin squints his eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“KeNedra Thompson had two broken wrists when you picked her up. Her hands were dangling by a strand and she ended up committing suicide. It’s unreal! Now what if, and this is just what if, she committed suicide because the pain was too much? Because she was infected? Because bacteria got to her bloodstream and impaired her judgment. I’m just making this shit up, to be honest. But I’m pretty sure the DA can find some medical expert looking to capitalize on the publicity. Either way, I doubt the hospital’s willing to flush a small fortune on court costs. Not over two garden-variety medics. Ya dig?”

They can feel the walls closing in. Jason rushes over in his cornrolls and whispers, “What do you want?”

“A few minutes of your time and a little respect will go a long way.” I tell them.

Five minutes later, we’re inside an examination room in the pediatric wing. They’re still copping an attitude as I get comfortable in the round rolling chair near the counter. I have my phone out to record the conversation. And for comedic measure I can’t help but notice the motivational poster of a cat behind them saying, “Cheer Up, Its Almost Over.”

I begin with, “I read the statements you gave detectives so I won’t ask you the same thing. That being said, now that it’s been several days, perhaps the shock of being involved in so violent a crime has worn off. Is there anything else you’d like to add to your statements?”

Jason speaks up with dramatic hands, “Look, sir. With all due respect, we see niggas die every day. You feel me? I saw a man get hit by a car. He got stuck under the tire and it wasn’t till we lifted the damn thing that he died. Never seen something so fucked up in my life. Compared to that, this ain’t shit. Ya dig?”

I nod, “After you picked up KeNedra, what did she tell you? Her exact words, if you please.”

“Man, it’s in the police report!” Jason shouts.

“I’d like to hear it again. And you’d do well to check your tone,” I say sternly with unblinking eyes. I’m not playing with these two. I don’t like them and they’re testing my patience.

Again, Jason speaks up. “She was hysterical, alright? Listen, I don’t want to say anything that might contradict my original statement cause I know how ya’ll do. As soon as there’s a little discrepancy or some shit, ya’ll start pointing fingers at us.”

“Tell me what you heard,” I say again.

“She said a girl got raped at the plantation! She was goin on and on about how some dude was like, beatin the other girl with a brick or some shit. She kept telling us we had to go back and help the other girl, but I’m like, we EMTs. Our first priority is to take care of her, KeNedra. So we put her in the cab, lit it up, and hauled ass.” Jason explains.

“Who drove?” I ask.

“Huh?” Jason grunts.

“If one of you was driving, the other had to be tending to KeNedra,” I say as if I’m explaining things to a four-year-old.

“Oh. I drove. Calvin was in the back.” Jason reveals.

Calvin tenses up. It’s subtle but I notice the twitch of muscles in his neck. He appears calm and cooperative. His profile suggests he’s the quiet type but he needs to start talking.

“Calvin.” I ask. “While she was with you did she mention anything? Like a name? Someone she recognized?”

“Umm…” Calvin utters as he scratches his forehead. “Like Jay said, she was all over the place, man.”

“Why didn’t you take care of her wrists, Calvin? And before you answer I need you to understand that I am really good at my job. Like, scary good. If you lie to me, I will know. Sometimes it’s right away. Sometimes it takes me awhile. But no matter what, I always sniff out the truth. And son, if I have to come back here because I found out you lied to me I’ll be coming with the full extent of the law. Do you understand?”

Calvin nods. “I couldn’t. She wouldn’t let me touch her.”

“Answer me this, Calvin. What the hell were you doing back there for the next fifteen to twenty minutes?”

“I tried to help her! Swear to God! But she kept going on about how she was about to get raped and molested. She was screaming! Shaking and convulsing like a wounded animal.”

“SHE WAS WOUNDED, DAMN IT! You’re supposed to be trained for that!” I shout, exploding from my chair.

“It was crazy, man! Girl look liked something out of a horror movie! Swear to God! Even getting her inside the cabin took both of us because her adrenaline was pumpin like crazy. Girl had retard strength! Swear to God, man!”

“Yeah she did. He ain’t lying,” Jason says backing him up.

“I wanted to set her bones or at the least, get her some morphine, but after she kept going on and on about murder and rape. We thought the best thing to do was drive her straight to the police station.” Calvin explains.

“You thought…” I scoff with disbelief. I’m about to snap. What he’s saying goes against standard procedure. They should have continued on to the hospital and the detectives would’ve have met them there.

“Look man! It’s just like Jay said. We’ve seen a lot of fucked up shit out here on these streets. But we’ve never dealt with anything like this. In this world, these days, in this society? The last thing I’m about to do is touch a girl screamin’ rape. You know how the media do. Sexual harassment. All it takes is one accusation. A single accusation without a shred of proof or evidence to ruin a man’s career. Fuck me up for life, son! No way, son! No way!” says Calvin, flashing a little bit of that rage he was once known for.

He was convincing but I’m not convinced. I’ve seen even the most tear-jerking stories coming from angel-faced daughters who murdered their parents. I turn and walk to the sink. It’s frustrating but I understand their concern. In this mob society, any allegation on the Internet is taken at face value by a mass of idiots who would rather believe the headlines than read the article. But still…has it really gotten so bad that even paramedics are afraid to touch people?

“I’m telling you, that’s the truth!” Calvin stresses.

“I hear you. One more thing. This is going to sound bad. Try not to take it the wrong way. Did you happen to come across a wallet that you decided to hold on to? I don’t care. I won’t report you. But I’m gonna need that back.”

“Bruh, seriously?” says Jason.

“What about a barrette? Did she have anything at all that she might have dropped in the ambulance?” I ask.

“Sir, she didn’t have anything on her persons when we picked her up,” Calvin says with a renewed sense of professional courtesy.

“You mind if I take a look in your ambulance anyway?”

“You can but, I mean, ya’ll already had it impounded to search it over the weekend. We only just got it back this morning. If there’s anything in there they would have found it, right?” Jason asks.

I sigh with exhaustion. “Yes. I suppose you’re right. Guess it’s back to the cotton fields.”

“You mean the plantation?” Jason asks.

Man…Jason sure likes to talk a lot. And he’s so loud. Maybe it’s just my frustration and the dormant migraine that’s amplifying the volume. Either way I take in a deep breath and start trudging for the door.

“That’ll be all, gentlemen. Thank you for your time.”

“So, hold up. We good, right?” Jason asks, still worried.

I don’t answer. Let them fester a bit. Bunch of cowards.

Exiting the ER, I give the desk sergeant a call and let him know that I’m planning to head out to the plantation. He asks if I’d need a backup unit. I decline.

I’m walking the pathway back the way I came when suddenly I stop just before rounding the corner. Someone’s watching me. With both hands in my pocket I slowly turn around and scan the area in a gradual, methodic sweep from left to right.

I know for a fact that Jason and Calvin are still inside the hospital so it couldn’t be them. It’s coming from one of the thirty plus vehicles in the ER;s parking lot. Friggin tinted windows. Even the ambulances have tinted windows. Anyone could be watching me from inside and I wouldn’t know. It’s not paranoia. I’ve learned long ago to trust this instinct.

I don’t have my gun on me. Maybe I should’ve accepted that offer for backup. Nah. The desk sergeant knows where I am. No one can get the drop on me. Not with my keen senses and an invisible Maggie backing me up. If anyone comes looking for trouble, they’ll get it.

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