The Slave Quarters
Chapter 13: The Worldly Media
By Rock Kitaro
Whelp…After I got beat the fuck up, I had no choice but to file a report. The sergeant working the graveyard shift wasn’t too pleased about my going out without a service weapon. Thankfully, he was polite about it, keeping his skepticism and scolding to a minimum. Other than a description of my assailant, he couldn’t care less why I was there or what I was looking for. He suggested I visit a hospital but wasn’t persistent about it. I ignored the suggestion and opted to return to my motel room.
As the shower rinsed the sweat and dirt off of my battered body, I saw the messy blotches of black and blue swelling all over my chest and back. The area between my neck and shoulder was worse from the barstool. Never before had I been so thoroughly thrashed. I winced with every turn. The simple act of reaching sent a wave of inflammation through my shoulders like popping battery acid in my bones.
My face remained unblemished, thank God. However, a migraine persisted and no matter how many painkillers I took, this migraine would stay with me for next three days.
On top of all that, there was blood in my urine. I couldn’t remember if pissing blood was a good or bad thing in terms of the healing process. All I knew was that I definitely didn’t want to go to the hospital and get a catheter stuck up my urethra. Too much information? Good! Street fights aren’t cool, kids. They suck. And as an investigator who depends on his sharp senses and clever wit to outsmart criminals, a throbbing headache is the last thing I need.
I should have sprawled out on that inviting floral pattern comforter covering my queen size bed. I should have nestled my head in between those crisp and cool pillows and let my burning eyes recuperate from the strain of staring so much. Like an imbecile, I don’t do any of that. I don’t know what’s driving me. It doesn’t make sense. It’s stupid. I know.
With a disgruntled mug, I wrangled on a white collared shirt. I shoved my legs through black slacks and yanked my blazer off its hanger. My head dangled forward in a dazed stupor as I glared at myself in the mirror and fiddled with frustrated fingers to tie this stupid tie. I’m whispering f-bombs. Should’ve brought a friggin clip-on.
I had to stop, calm down, and breathe.
This time, before I left my motel room I made sure to bring my service weapon. It’d be a shame to have to shoot the suspect, but I’d rather put one in his back than watch him scurry off in the woods again.
As I made my way to the motel’s front office, my face gradually descends into the droop into a disheartening grimace. I passed by Leanne’s room and as much as I didn’t want to think about what was going on inside, her nasally laughter couldn’t be ignored. She was still up but I don’t hear anyone else. I didn’t expect to. Because I know Griffin excused himself not too long ago to try and kill me.
I thought about kicking in Leanne’s door like riot police and interrogating his departure time out of her. I thought about it, but didn’t have the nerve. So I simply proceeded to the front office and dropped off the rental keys to the car. Leanne would pick them up in the morning and that would be that.
It was closing in on three in the morning when I hit the streets. Downtown Augusta is an eerie sight, not for the timid or fainthearted. The roads are barren and silent. Tungsten streetlamps cast a burnt orange tint over the sidewalks, but beyond the cracked cement and chained linked fences is a vast sea of darkness. I saw outlines of historic buildings with no electricity. Every once in a while I’d hear a random cough in the distance. I wondered how many squatters took up residence in those vacant buildings. I wondered how many were watching me.
Police HQ was only few blocks away, a thirty-minute hike. I take out Miranda’s pack of cigarettes and just as my lips snag one out, a strong pressure squeezes in my head so hard that my jaw clenches. That was my body’s way of telling me, “Nope!” and I listened. The pack is discarded in the next trashcan I pass.
Flipping up my collar, I replayed the last few hours in my head wondering if there’s anything I missed, anything I might have overlooked. Mr. Wayne said the killer drove in a vehicle with flashing lights. It has to be law enforcement! The desk sergeant knew where I was going. Anyone could’ve found out where I was from entry logs but I can’t just approach the sergeant and make inquiries. It would let the killer know I’m onto his trail. And when you’re trying to set a trap for someone the last thing you want is to let them know you’re baiting the hook. Not to mention, a hawk scooping up a venomous snake still runs the risk of getting bit in return.
So what should I do? Was it really Det. Griffin? For all I knew, Griffin could’ve still been in Leanne’s motel room when I heard her laughing. I don’t know for sure. And if Leanne was with Det. Griffin all night then his alibi is airtight. However, if he slipped out sometime around midnight, then yeah…he’s my guy.
After thirty minutes, the cold finally penetrated my defenses. It numbs the pain but my front teeth’s doing Morse code as I stopped under a lamppost on the corner of Moor and Hightower. Police headquarters was a stone’s throw away. I just stood there staring at the ghastly four-story building of Beaux-Arts architecture like a vindictive criminal coming for payback on the pigs who locked me up. My brooding eyes were fixated on the main entrance and the line of squad cars parked out front.
Migraines…they not only dull your senses, they reduce your common sense. I’m strutting down the middle of Moor Street like it’s nobody’s business. There wasn’t any traffic but even if there was, I doubt I’d get out of the way. I was in a mood unbecoming of an officer of the law, unbecoming of the authority vested in me.
Even as I passed City Hall on my left, I was squinting at it with disgust as if the entire building was sprinkled in bird shit. I never understood why people liked to put City Hall and police HQ within spitting distances of each other. It’s like having quarreling siblings grow up and deciding live next door to each other when there’s a whole world of space out there. So stupid. Like I said, I was in mood.
When I entered police HQ, I ignored the desk sergeant’s judgmental gaze and didn’t react when she called me a dumbass from afar. I simply found refuge in the mostly vacant 2rd floor bullpen. It was sad. The Chief just finished giving a press conference talking about how urgent this case was, but I only saw two detectives burning both ends of the candle. These two good detectives were following up Jessica’s suggestion to search J-Poopy’s sanitation truck. I could’ve walked over for an update but it was so quiet, so tranquil. I’ll ask them later.
Taking up a post at an empty desk, I spread out the case files, the pictures, the documented statements. I was ignoring the obvious in search for trivial details, any kind of discrepancy I could use to prove J-Poopy’s innocence. I was walking on eggshells because I knew my agenda undermined that of Jessica and Leanne’s. They’re not gonna want to hear that I think their primary suspect is innocent, so I’m determined to keep my suspicions to myself until I have concrete evidence.
My eyes jumped from page to page, timecode to timecode, dates to dates, addresses and their correlation to the points of interests. It’s…it’s all so very taxing. It’s never a good sign when you start seeing things in three, when your vision blurs the lines and causes the letters to come floating off paper like leaves on the surface of a rippling pond. My body finally seizes control. Fatigue grabbed me by the back of my neck and gently lowered my head to rest on the surface of the wooden desk, right next to Tiquasia Payne’s autopsy report.
Three hours felt like three minutes. I need more sleep but the herd of deputies clocking in for the 7 o’clock shift is loud and noisy. I know they’re not intentionally being loud just to spite me, but my mind lets me think it.
Deputies Golf and Sheridan are leisurely swapping strategies about the best way to cook a turkey. Both of them are using their outside voices and they’re only one desk over. My eyelids drag open and I show them a weak and decrepit face, an inaudible plea of mercy. Both smile right through me like jocks looking down on a nerd. They continue their conversation with more brio and for some reason I’m thinking about the Glock strapped in my shoulder holster.
My forehead hits the desk again. So badly, I want to cry. Not out of sadness or the pain raking my back, but due to the excessive amount of restraint I have to exercise on a daily basis. KeNedra’s dead. These deputies are still alive. Where’s the justice? Guess I’m still in a mood.
“Oh hell!” Deputy Golf bellows.
My reddish eyes drag up to see these obese deputies hobbling out of the bullpen with an alarming sense of urgency. More officers follow their lead until the entire 2nd floor bullpen is cleared out. My curiosity’s piqued. Before I get up to see what’s the hubbub, I quaff down a cherry flavored energy shot. It’s jammed packed with caffeine and motor-churning riboflavin. With nothing else in my stomach, my awareness should jump from fifteen to at least eighty-five percent in about ten minutes. As soon as it goes down the hatch I smirk with determination and relief. Another long one is about to begin.
A golden blast of sunshine pours into the stairwell. I feel its warmth as I pass by the windows. Each step I take reminds me that my body’s in need of repairs but I can’t worry about that now. Before I even get to the bottom of the stairs, I hear stress and outrage erupting in the main lobby.
Peering through the door’s slot window, I see mothers and fathers demanding information, demanding an audience with any detective assigned to a particular case and it doesn’t take rocket science to guess which one. They need answers. They need to know how their daughters were abducted, how were they murdered, who’s gonna pay for this!
A small crowd of emotional family members is beating their chests, threatening retaliation, demanding justice. The desk sergeant and her deputies have their hands full. More deputies rush to her aid, rising with intensity to match that of their aggressive complainants.
Even I’m on edge as I exit the stairwell. My heart’s beating at a rapid pace and the heat normally associated with agoraphobia comes creeping up the side of my already afflicted neck. Almost instantly, a few look my way like a group of angry jihadists spotting a Christian. They assume I’m someone important but the dark circles around my eyes tell them they aren’t going to get anything out of me. Only one elderly black man continues to stare so boldly at me. He broods in silence with a presumptive gaze. I can’t read minds but that stare…it’s like he pegged me as one of those responsible for covering up the murders.
Of course, there was no cover up. But as I skirt along the walls, I discern that this was their main concern. Everyone suspected it. But it’s not true. The police didn’t let this happen. Crime will happened regardless of precautions. But somehow these good citizens are so keen on the idea that this is a cover up. As if we’ve known since the first murder over a year ago and brushed it under a rug.
I wonder where they got that idea.
Beyond the main lobby, deputies have formed a line barring any more civilians from entering the building. It’s frantic and frankly outrageous. It goes against normal procedure because any one of those civilians could be coming to file an imminent report that has nothing to do with our case. If the media found out, it would further tarnish this department’s already fragile reputation. This isn’t good. It’s only 7:15 and as the rush hour continues it’ll only get worse.
I approach the service desk to get a better understanding. The civilians are belligerent, most of them African American and dressed as if they just threw something on. The handful who managed to get past the deputies barely knew the victims on a personal level. As I try to speak with them, they shrug me off because I’m not in uniform. Fresh officers confront them with chest-out authority, pointing fingers and orders to leave the premises. They don’t listen. No one is listening. It’s the deaf shouting at the deaf. The blind leading the blind. This is what disorder looks like and there’s nothing cool or glorious about it.
It doesn’t take long to gather from their gripes why the mass have put on the colors of rebellion. They’re fueled by the same media coverage that stops me in my tracks. I’m literally standing in the middle of the blue and yellow shield painted on the floor of the lobby. My eyes rise and become fixated on the mounted TV screens.
It was our boss’s worst fear. It wasn’t just the local news. The case made national headlines. Atlanta sent their best reporters down to expose the “racially motivated sex crimes” preying on our young women of color. The anchor of this particular news station was reporting that the police knew a serial killer was on the loose and kept the information hidden from the public. They say an undisclosed “whistleblower” came forward. They say the whistleblower was what forced the Chief to make a public address last night.
Their spin on the events was enough to invoke rage. It was completely counterproductive. Last night, the police chief informed the public of the case with a heavy heart. He released the names of the victims. He even revealed that we have a prime suspect. Apparently, that wasn’t enough.
Apparently the media saw the long-term potential of running this story. Instead of focusing on the victims or a suspect, they’d rather dwell on the incompetence of the police and how race played a part in their lack of urgency to solve it. The reporter I’m watching now brings up the death of Alisha Collier, the majorette we believed to be the killer’s first victim. Alisha was abducted and murdered well over a year ago and the Augusta Police Department barely ran any PSAs about it.
Thus, the reporter accused the department of negligence, positing that if the community was aware of Alisha’s murder and the subsequent abduction of the second victim, Ashley Hunt…they could have saved lives and prevented the deaths of Samantha Fox, Denedra Harrell, Tiquasia Payne and KeNedra Thompson. The reporter blames law enforcement for allowing the “Slave Quarter Killer” to thrive.
“The Slave Quarter Killer…” This was in big bold letters on the screen. Just listening to them enunciate that title over and over again sounded ridiculous. They slurred in their rushed oratory and all anyone was able to hear was “Slave Quarters.”
Jamar Thompson…KeNedra’s older brother who we just question yesterday is being interviewed. Damn it! He’s right outside. Their mother, Amarah, assured us that she wouldn’t seek fame or fan the flames, but I guess her sons took umbrage with how our meeting ended. Jamar and O’Shea were dressed like scholars in their vests, bow ties, and thick-rimmed glasses. Yes, they certainly looked the part. Like academic wrestlers filming a pay-per-view promo.
Jamar articulates, “This is a justice system we can no longer trust! The police were over at our house just yesterday tryin to put the blame on us. ON US! They don’t care about Black people! J-Poopy is just a patsy. He a fall guy. A band-aid. Keep your head up, brutha. We know you didn’t do this, homie. No brother would ever do this to his own sisters. This is just another notch in a long history of institutional racism where the police are trying to blame us for killing ourselves!”
Man…Jamar is all fire and brimstone. His passion is real. I’m on the side of law enforcement and even I found myself agreeing with him to some degree. It shakes up my cabinet of priorities but I’m much too savvy to let things fall out of place. All of this is nothing but a distraction. I still need to solve this case and I know it’s only a matter of hours before Chomsky calls in and orders us to put all our resources into cementing a conviction around J-Poopy…an innocent man.
The screen transitions to show photos of the six teenage girls in their purest most innocent form. All of them look like darlings, daddy’s little girls possessing so much promise. If such innocent smiles could compel me to get up and take action, I can only imagine what it would do to those with less reason and far less restraint.
Throngs of protestors were sure to show up in droves as the morning dragged on. I had no doubt the mob would diversify with many white sympathizers joining the picket lines. Leftist special interest groups from all corners, closets, and cracks were sure to show up and make their presence known. They’ll say they care but we all know everyone’s pushing their own agenda. And the camera will give them their attention so long as they appear outraged and radical. It’s all about ratings. It’s all about pushing the narrative, to manipulate the masses into how they think the world should be.
I need some air.
Taking a side exit, I wind around the building’s perimeter hedges. Blaring police sirens exacerbate my anxiety. I’m repeatedly hit with waves of amnesia where I have to stop and remember why I came out in the first place. Why am I out here? What am I looking for? How is being out here going to help me solve this case?
It’s not. I just need to lay my eyes on the chaos and experience it, if just for a moment, like going to a zoo except there are no bars to separate me from the animals. From the breezeway smoking section, I see over 200 placard waving protestors bunched up and shouting from the middle of Moor Street. It’s a herd of kinetic energy, erratic motion devoid of all sense of civility. Thick wads of spit spew from their snarling lips. Large grizzly men were bouncing on the hoods of cars. Everyone was waving their fists and throwing their shoulders, all speaking at once as if their primary goal was simply to make noise.
It’s scary… The police are outnumbered and all it would take was for some foolhardy demonstrator to test their luck and throw the first punch. This must have been what the British felt just before the Boston Massacre. I pray history doesn’t repeat itself.
The mother of Alicia Collier is among the protestors. She’s standing on her husband’s truck as she speaks to a group of followers all dressed in matching green shirts. With a loudspeaker in hand, she leads a series of chants, all calling for the police to do their jobs. It’s a moving display of solidarity between the victims’ families.
One heavyset woman was dry heaving in her grief. She had to be set down on the curb. Another distraught father showed signs of suffering from a stroke as he growled at an officer to “back the fuck up,” the anger draining from his face with each syllable.
There’s another busload of civilians screaming in front of City Hall. Camera crews from all over the country had taken up posts a “safe distance” at the end of Moor Street. Almost all of the correspondents provided their own exaggerated spin on the facts. Some weren’t even facts. It’s as if they just arrived, looked around, and started guessing without talking to anyone.
For instance, a reporter from Philadelphia was reporting that it was ten girls abducted instead of six. A reporter from Chicago said with definitive conviction that the murders were a hate crime and disseminated a quote by saying the police didn’t care about Black people. One New York reporter claimed that the city of Augusta was on the verge of socioeconomic collapsed. He claimed that workers were threatening to strike, riots were already breaking out all over the city, and thousands had turned out to protest when there were only a couple hundred.
One correspondent from Los Angeles even went so far as to report that the girls were sold into sex trafficking ring before they were killed. A Washington D.C. reporter was lambasting the police chief, claiming that thousands were calling for his resignation.
It’s ridiculous. A ruckus. The mob is so loud that reporters have to keep a hand cupped over their ear to hear from their producers. The rabble started interfering with the cameramen, ugly faces demanding airtime.
One female reporter is shoved down by a large Black male who then takes hold of the camera and shouts threats as if the camera who owed him money. A deputy witnessed it and charges to tackle the man. A skirmish breaks out and it really does look like the start of an actual race war.
My fists ball up, as it usually does when stupidity turns physical. I wasn’t in any condition to get involved no matter how much I wanted to. It wasn’t even past eight and the scene was turning into another Baltimore. The chaotic symphony of overlapping screams, popping glass, and a crescendo of cracking bricks…
“Messed up, ain’t it,” Jimmy says over my shoulder.
In a comical head whip, I turn with surprise to catch Jimmy Coolidge snapping a shot of me with his camera. He’s having a ball. With pleasure, he returns to photographing the scene as if it’s a shoot for a swimsuit model. He’s still wearing the same rugged brown jacket from yesterday.
“Warned you!” He brags.
“What’s that? This is you? You’re the whistleblower?”
“You told me if there was any paranormal activity you’d let me have me a peek. We both know there is. Why else would you have gone back to the slave quarters in the dead of night?”
Son of a bitch…I rush forward and yank him up against the brick wall. My teeth rattles with rage but he’s laughing his ass off.
“You idiot! Look at what you’ve done!”
He throws his hands up, grinning in my face, “All I did was spread the word. The world needs to know what’s going on in Atlanta’s sister city.”
“You’re a piece of shit!” I say, shoving him away.
“If it wasn’t me, it’d be someone else.”
“Yeah! Profiting on the loss of others.”
“Come on, Cloud. You act like this shit’s new. I didn’t invent this. There’s nothing innovative bout what I’ve done. No. No! This right here is about spreading awareness. This is us, grabbing America by the scruff of the neck and forcing her to look at it. Look at it, Cloud! This is how you bring about change!”
“That’s bullshit, Jimmy! All this does is delay that said change when, as history shows, it was all going to happen anyway. You can’t force people to see things your way. Even if you guilt them into agreeing with you, it’s only temporary. Sooner or later, they’re going to wake up. And when they do, they’ll resent you for ever tricking them in the first place.”
“Tricking them? Give me a break! If it wasn’t for the media shining a spotlight on the social injustice, we’d still have slavery, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, and the government would only continue to get rich off of our backs. You’re speaking from a narrow-minded perspective of white privilege. This is the public getting involved. This is America, Cloud! Out there? Those are Americans! We need a new revolution, a new system and this is just the kind of thing that ignites the keg. Haha! Come on, Cloud! You know I’m right.”
We have to shout just to hear each other. He thinks he’s right, but so do I. We’re orators on opposites of the fence engaging in an unwinnable debate. I could’ve gone on to argue why phrases like “white privilege” only served as kindling for the racial tensions. Jimmy might look like a dimwit but he’s intelligent in an idiotic way. Sort of how potheads argue for the legalization of marijuana as if they’re all expert botanists. Either way, we’re dead set on our views and I’m too sore to throw him a beating.
He goes back to snapping photos as I trudge on, stepping out from under the breezeway and into the sun as exhaustion strikes. I’m on the sidewalk of Moor Street when it suddenly becomes difficult to breathe. This is crazy. I’m getting dizzy and it feels like I’m carrying a wounded soldier on my shoulders. That energy shot I drank isn’t worth a damn. My knees feel like they’re about to buckle with each step.
As a puzzled expression surfaces, I catch the brothers Jamar and O’Shea heading my way. They just finished another fiery sermon, this time for a major network. I want to tell them, “Congrats. You’ll be famous and used as race-baiting poster boys for weeks before ending up as a footnote from 2016.” Yet, here they are. Quite pleased with themselves.
I stagger into the streets and put myself directly in their paths. I don’t say anything at first. I know what I want to say but it’s not coming out. God, I must look bewildered. They’re grimacing as if they want to keep their distance to avoid catching my disease.
“Your mother taught you better than this,” I mumble.
“Say what?!” the hot-blooded O’Shea says, amped up and ready to strike.
Jamar stops him with a flat smile. “Don’t even worry about him, man. We’ll take care of KeNedra’s killer. That’s why we here. We plan to smoke him out until you pigs hand over the man that did this.”
His plan doesn’t even make sense. I step forward, getting in Jamar’s face. I’m trying to be serious but my agoraphobia’s kicking in like crazy. All people see is a blond man in a corporate suit talking down to a pair of educated black college students.
I’m getting surrounded. So many faces, ten or fifteen. So much hate. It’s fuming from their nostrils like bulls out of the gate. They’re ready to jump me. They want to stomp me black and blue. I can’t run. I can’t speak. I can’t plea to their humanity. I’m literally shaking in my boots as a scathing heat rushes up and causes my cheeks to quiver. I over here slouching in a stupor while Jamar and O’Shea stand dignified with promise.
“You guys shouldn’t be here! You can’t help KeNedra by affecting the law into a course that’s only perceptible from hate and prejudice.” That’s what I try to say. But with a thick strand of saliva dribbling from my lips, my words come out in some babbling form of elven tongues.
“Look! You came to our house pointing fingers at everyone but y’all selves. Now you got J-Poopy coming in just ‘cause he helps out with the dance contests? We saw the commissioner speak, but he wasn’t saying shit. If ya’ll won’t do your jobs, then we’ll unite our brothers and sisters all across the world! Black lives matter! Black people unite!”
Jamar…with each declaration, the surrounding mob cheers with angry eyes. I know Jamar doesn’t mean me harm. But O’Shea does. If I had a clearer head, my acumen would’ve suggested feigning submission just to appease them. However, at the moment my anxiety was in control. As Jamar was speaking, my gaze wandered off, as if I was listening for the inaudible frequency of dog’s whistle. I look like I’m out of my mind and O’Shea thinks I’m mocking them.
Before I realize what’s happening, O’Shea cocks back and hits me so hard. It’s a clean punch. I black out for half a second as the crowd goes, “OHH!!!”
The buildings turn sideways as I collapse in the street. My face impresses upon the rocky asphalt and suddenly I see a whole bunch of boots swarming around. Every thing is dull and muffled. Then, someone pulls me up by my arm. It’s Griffin.
Apparently Griffin came out of nowhere and slung O’Shea against the side of a squad car. Jamar ran to his brother’s defense and Griffin knocked him out too. As the swarm of police slapped cuffs on the brothers, Griffin ran over to help me up. I can barely stand on my own so he’s basically dragging me.
The mob is throwing everything from glass bottles to loose gravel. This is pathetic. My frustration boils over. Now, thanks to this, if Griffin incurs any injuries from our fight in the slave quarters, he could use the mob’s projectiles to justify those injuries.
Jimmy snaps a photo as we enter the breezeway. I remember. My eyes look directly into the lens at the exact moment of the flash.