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.”
I know Leanne’s right but I’ve been on the receiving end of fake, empty apologies and know very well that they run the risk of worsening the damage. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing than to apologize and not mean it. They’re insulted and by all accounts, they have every right to be. They did their due diligence and caught their man while I was off playing with ghosts in the middle of the night.
“Jessica. Leanne. I’m sorry. Honestly, my apologies.” I say with my deepest respect.
Jessica’s frown is a mix of confusion and pity. It’s too painful to bear so I look away, standing up and cringing from the stiffness in my back.
“What is it with you?” she hisses.
“I’m just weird, Jessica. Always have been. You know that.” I tell her with no more fight left in me.
Walking past her is like passing a burning furnace. But I have to in order to enter the en suite bathroom. I’m throwing some water on my face as Leanne calls me a spaz and every other name in the book. I feel horrible, literally sick to my stomach. It causes me to slouch over the sink and as per usual, meet with my own self-loathing reflection. It’s not just my reflection I see. Jessica makes no attempt to hide her glare as she stares at me through the crack in the door. I reach over and close it completely, boldly maintaining eye contact until the click of the latch.
As soon as the door closed, Jessica turns to Leanne and unleashes the most inaudible display of frustration Leanne’s ever seen. She’s flailing her arms with writhing fingers like a jaguar swiping at a swarm of gnats. Leanne has to cover her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
“The nerve!” Leanne gawks.
“Let’s get out of here. I can’t be in the same room with him right now.” Jessica says as she whips up her purse.
They slam the door. After putting on my black blazer, wetting my hair in a slick-back look, and grabbing my phone, I too make my departure. I should’ve called Miranda back but I don’t want her to hear me so dejected. Thus, I wander aimlessly, passing by the guarded room of Jacory Godchaux and advancing down the wide brightly lit halls.
I end up approaching the atrium in the center of the hospital, picking a spot along the spacious 3rd floor walkway that overlooks the front entrance and 1st floor lobby. It’s completely different from the last time I saw the lobby. Half of the hundred plus chairs were filled with sick patients and visitors, geriatric and pediatric alike.
The sight of Amanda Nunez at the front desk warms my heart. Her bubbly optimism and beaming smile transmits well. She’s a good girl. With it being so early, just after seven, she has company. It’s another young intern, the same age and gender. That’s good. It’s good she has someone to talk to. I hope Amanda fares well.
My attention is then drawn to the flat screen that takes up much of the wall in the waiting lobby. The headline news is about my case. It’s disparaging. Apparently there’s still a large protest going on outside police headquarters on Moor Street. Even with the new information about Jacory’s confession and the subsequent shootout, the talking heads and prognosticators still believe this is the work of police corruption. They question who initiated the shootout. They suspect Jacory’s confession was made under duress. They’re fanning the flames and feeding the uproar. The drama never ends.
The thought of returning to Atlanta and leaving things as is, it really does churn the pit of my stomach with sharp constipation. The problem is, I don’t know what to believe. My instinct’s telling me Jacory isn’t the killer. At the same time, I’m at my wit’s end. My confidence is shot. I’m terrified of opposing Leanne and Jessica. Griffin seems untouchable and I have no other leads. Is this it? Have I failed?
“This is what the world’s come to. We can no longer depend on the oligarchs to think they know what’s best for the proletariat. Law enforcement is just a gilded illusion of peace and security that no longer bears merit. This is why the people must take action to affect justice on their own.”
Malachi Sanders. I glance over my shoulder to see the man in long dreads and thick-framed glasses. He keeps his gaze on the broadcast.
“And you think a resigning police chief is token of said justice?” I ask him.
Malachi keeps forward but his eyes pan my way. There’s no painted emotion but I can tell he wants to call me a “simple motherfucker.” He’s wondering whether or not he should indulge me, whether or not I’m intelligent enough to grasp his oh-so sophisticated ideology.
“The resignation of a police chief stands to serve as a warning to police across this divided land. Neglect and discrimination will no longer be tolerated. Corruption and brutality will no longer be rewarded. Social media, the digital age, the age of information, instant communication are all means to a swift, passive and non-violent revolution. It’s time. History is on our side. You can’t stop progression. Not the Senate. Not the Supreme Court. Not the president and for damn sure not the Constitution. It’s time we stood up for ourselves instead of waiting for others to stand up for us.”
This guy…To hear him speak, you’d think we were living under some despotic regime where there were no human rights. The call for resignation is a bit too harsh. It’s like punishing the police for the existence of criminals, and then getting mad at the police for enforcing laws that would prevent crime. And I get it. Sometimes our stations in life truly do seem preordained and fixed from birth, but that’s a defeatist attitude, one I refuse to entertain. Even so, I hold back from debating the issue. In part because I know I don’t possess half the oratory he does. But mostly it’s because I just don’t care. Not now.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” I utter.
Malachi smirks. I can tell he’s sizing me up, trying to get a read on me and it’s laughable. It’s impossible to get a read on me, not when I don’t give a damn.
“You are Special Agent Cloud Beaudry, are you not?”
“I heard you were assaulted this morning but you dropped the charges and let the young brothers go free. May I ask why?”
I squint my eyes. He’s well-informed. I was discreet about dropping the charges so how the hell did Malachi find out?
“It’s true. I was assaulted but I knew it was innocent. A misguided fool who let himself get played by those who exploited his anger and used it as a tool for their own agenda. You know, kinda like Satan,” I articulate, slowly turning my sights on him and making sure the implications were conveyed
Malachi puts one hand on the rail and laughs, saying, “I swear that’s…That’s funny coming from the same officers who incited a shootout. A shootout, I might add, that took away a man’s ability to fend for himself for the rest of his life.”
“Unfortunate?! According to one of your colleagues, young Mr. Jacory got what was coming to him! What do you mean, unfortunate?”
I look around, wondering if his shouting attracted attention.
“You think he’s innocent, don’t you.” Malachi asks.
This guy is getting on my nerves. “You should have never brought your client forward. At the very least, he shouldn’t have confessed to the statutory.”
I walk off, fed up and annoyed.
“An innocent man has nothing to fear!” Malachi declares.
So stupid… The prisons are wall to wall with innocent men caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also, Jacory’s not innocent. Last I checked, statutory rape was illegal. Maybe he did get what he deserved, the loss of one leg. It’d make him think twice before wrapping it around another teen still young enough to be into boybands. Either way, Jacory doesn’t deserve life behind bars. He’s just a bumbling idiot.
Trudging down the hallways, I have the morbid theme of Chopin’s “Funeral March” stuck in my head. I pass several cute nurses turned on by my bad boy glare, but I’m fresh out of charm. I need to lash out like a wolf coming to exact vengeance on the townsfolk who prodded me off with pitchforks and torches. I need to rant and rave. I need a friend and not just any friend, but one who gets me and won’t look down on me for being so… me.
It’s a freezing night compared to earlier in the day. I feel right at home in the gloomy fog. I step outside and look for an isolated spot to phone Miranda, but there are people everywhere. Cars are pulling through the front drive to drop off their friends and loved ones. I see happy faces. Worried faces. I see warm embraces and sad goodbyes. Ugh…
Making my way around the right side of the building, I find myself on the same well-lit walkway as before. Chain smokers and phone-callers are sprinkled around these parts. I keep walking. If I reach the ER wing and haven’t found seclusion, I’d call Miranda anyway and, I guess, just freak some people out with my casual talk about the dead.
Rounding the corner, I change my mind. I half expected to find more people, ambulances, residents…I didn’t expect to see Det. Griffin.
There he was, on the far side of the parking lot. As a caring friend, he came to visit me and ran into a disgruntled Jessica and Leanne. Or at least, they were disgruntled. At present, I see them chatting it up with levity. The way Jessica smiles with that twinkle in her eye, so enamored, so fascinated…it makes my chest hollow. I hate it. It wasn’t until she came back into my world that I remembered jealousy was a thing. I knew this would happen. I dreaded it. But no…Look for the positives, they say. Hope for the best, they say.
Griffin is everything that I am not. He’s outgoing, strikingly handsome, and self-assured in his proven capabilities. You don’t have to think too hard when describing his attributes. They’re radiant and in your face. Moreover, he has friends. People like to be around him. The kind of guy who takes out a boat on the weekend or has the neighbors over for a barbecue. Who wouldn’t admire a guy like Griffin?
Where as I…The qualities I possess are invisible. There’s no trophies or awards for my accomplishments or the obstacles I’ve had to overcome. Other than God, no one will ever know unless I tell them. And with my generation, you can’t do that. They’ll call it “bragging.” The fact that I don’t carry the countless tragedies on my shoulder, the enormous injustices I witness on a daily basis and endure for the sake of peace and stability…I could post it on social media but for what? So people can hurt like me? To use the pain and suffering of others as a tool to fish for sympathy and compliments?
My peers don’t see me. Even if they did, I still wouldn’t come over and say hello. The bunch of jerks. With a stiff neck, I turn back to the hospital and start walking towards the sliding glass doors. Hopefully my hospital room is still vacant. It’s not like there’s anything left to do. We have our man and I’m supposed to be in Atlanta by tomorrow afternoon. Just go back to sleep. Tomorrow you’ll have another case and Jessica and Leanne will be partners on their own. Tomorrow’s a new day. Your mission is accomplished. Ignore your stupid conscience. Mission accomplished.
I get to the entrance and recognize two faces. The paramedics, Calvin Chalmers and Jason Hicks are wheeling an old woman through the sliding glass doors on a gurney.
The grateful old woman took a nasty spill during a family dinner and broke her hip. Thus, the whole family of over fifteen black adults and three preteens had gathered by the entrance to supervise her safe arrival.
They were noisy, but it was a pleasant kind of noisy. The old woman was in good spirits despite the explosion of pain in her midsection. Her adult sons asked reasonable questions and the wives are smiling, sedated by the confidence exuded by Calvin and Jason.
I stand off to the side and wait patiently for the scene to dissipate. It doesn’t look like it’ll take much longer. Calvin, the light-skinned paramedic with the buzz cut signs paperwork with a resident. Jason, the cornroll-wearing smooth talker assures the family that everything’s alright.
I approach. The paramedics recognize me. Jason gives me the stink eye while Calvin brushes past my shoulder. Oh yeah. That’s right. I think I yanked one of them up against a wall before. I can’t remember which one or if I only imagined it. I don’t care.
With my hands in my pockets, my boots step onto the spongy doormat in front of the sliding glass doors. My downtrodden gaze ascends to once again to catch my own reflection and BOOM…there it is.
Just like that, a cannon explodes in my heart and time stands still. Icy cold lightning courses through my veins. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. My jaw slacks in astonishment and my eyes widen with shock. It happens so fast, but it felt an eternity.
There’s a Halo-Star Ambulance parked in the front entrance. The back doors to the cabin are open. Just before Jason closed it, I saw the dark face of a woman staring back at me in the reflection of the sliding glass doors. It was an apparition. A ghost. She was faint and transparent like a grainy silhouette that made up most of her upper body and faded with no defining outline but blended into nothingness.
Her face isn’t distinct nor did it seem tangible as it is with Maggie or Mr. Wayne from the plantation. It was like a painting of dull watercolors. Her eye sockets were empty and I couldn’t make out a nose. But more than anything, her pouting grimace was embellished in the grossest sense. It scarred my mind worse than the old paintings of witches being burn at the stake. The sight of her made my eyes water because I knew, I felt the hopelessness embedded in her ordeal. Trapped by torture like a virtuous spirit surrounded by pure evil.
With a fiery glare and clenching teeth I turn around and throw all my attention on that ambulance. The cabin doors are now closed. Its back windows are tinted so I can’t see inside. That’s why! Son of a bitch! The last time I was here, I felt that I was being watched. I was being watched by a ghost imprisoned in that ambulance! She could see me but I could not see her.
The ambulance peels off and I follow in an angry powerwalk to the edge of the curb until it exits from complex and weaves in with the traffic of Walton Way. A single tear rolls down my cheek. I let it trickle. I let my eyes flare up and swell with heated saline. The anger, the rage. Oh, it burns.
Jessica, Leanne, and Griffin are staring at me. I can’t hear them. They see the scowl on my face and assume it’s because of our quarrel. Good. Let ‘em think I’m still after Griffin. Let ‘em think I just want to sabotage their case and derail their reputation with the bureau. That’s fine. That’s fine. I’m used to being alone on an island, the nail that sticks out. That’s perfectly fine.
“Maggie,” I whisper. “That was KeNedra, wasn’t it?”
“What if it was?” She whispers back.
“Maggie, if you help me kill these bastards I swear Crystianne will never make it to Thanksgiving.”
A gust of wind rustles the branches of an oak tree. Maggie appears, standing close to the trunk. I see her Mary Jane shoes, her white tube socks and the bottom fringe of her dark pleated skirt. Her face is blended with the shadows but stands of her long black hair unfurl with the wind. Her eyes glistens like red-hot embers from a hearth.
“What about your friends?” she whispers in a childish taunt.
“Don’t be absurd. We both know I’m not allowed to have any friends.”
Then I turn to see the three inquisitive faces staring at me with malice in their hearts. Another car passes between us before I approach from across the street.
“Hey buddy, how you feelin?” Griffin asks.
I examine my colleagues, wondering if they’ve told him about my suspicions.
“I’m good, Mark. Thanks for asking.”
Griffin advances, smiling with, “I was just telling the ladies about my family. I know you already ate, but I was wondering if you’d come by to meet them? We’re having a game night with some of the boys. Kind of like a victory party for the good guys. What do you say? It’s the least we can do before you ship off tomorrow.”
Astounding… I’m trying my best to remain affable but my abhorrence held back by the greater goal is beginning to crumble. Leanne’s excited to go as if last night meant nothing. She’s about to go and shake hands with the woman whose husband she slept with and it didn’t faze her one bit.
“I need the keys to the rental.” I say, not giving a shit how they take my tone.
“Why?” Jessica demands to know.
“Awe. Come on, Cloud. You don’t want to come meet Sam and Winston. I already told them all about you. They’re dying to meet you.” Griffin pleads.
“I’m gonna have to pass on that. Agent Donaldson, the keys please.”
“Why?” Jessica snaps.
I lock eyes with her, letting her know that I don’t owe her a damn thing.
“He wants the keys. Give the man the keys. You ladies can ride with me.” Griffin suggests.
“No! The last time you went off on your own, you nearly got yourself killed. You’re sticking with us and this is the last I want to hear about it.” Jessica barks.
“Arroyo!” I bark back.
“Whoa! Seriously, it’s no big deal. He’s a big boy. Let him go.” Griffin says.
“Yeah. Better give him the keys before he goes off somewhere and cries about it.” Leanne says as she pulls them out.
She dangles the keys over my hand instead of placing them. So I snatch them away. Leanne gasps. Jessica’s shoulders jolt forward as if she’s about to stop me. She doesn’t.
As I take off across the parking lot, my temper drags up an old hatred from high school. This whole situation reminds me of my drama club days where my fellow techies just wanted to play around and flirt while I wanted to finish building the set. They called me lame, a try-hard. That’s alright. All of it fuels me and I’m on fire!