The Slave Quarters
Chapter 18 – This Isn’t Over
By Rock Kitaro
Det. Griffin is the man of the hour. Dressed sharp in his black overcoat, Griffin is met by thunderous applause as he parades a traumatized Calvin Chalmers through the 3rd floor bullpen. Detectives, deputies, and sergeants alike stand with adulation, thankful and relieved that the storm battering their withered department will soon dissipate. And of course, perhaps no one is more grateful than the police chief himself.
“Breaking News” scrolled on the lower third of every major network. The police chief was preparing to make an official announcement at the eleven o’clock broadcast. No doubt, it must have been how Obama felt when Bin Laden was killed. Because at long last, the police chief was ready to announce that the “Slave Quarter Killer” has been captured.
Calvin Chalmers was severely beaten. His jaw was popped back into place, but other than that, the police didn’t bother with his broken ribs or the cuts and bruises swelling over that baby face of his. After Calvin refused to say another word without his attorney, Griffin locked him in a holding cell down in the basement. It was the same holding cell Jamar and O’Shea was kept in earlier in the day. Cell 1-A, the one closest to the entrance and directly in view of the camera so Calvin was supervised attentively.
Turns out, the paranoid Leanne logged into a computer to track the GPS on her phone, the phone she left in the rental car. Once they found out I was at the slave quarters, she, Jessica, and Griffin hauled ass. I guess I should be thank…No. I’m not thankful. If I wasn’t distracted by Griffin’s obnoxious LED headlights I would’ve seen Calvin scooping up the dirt that he threw in my face. I suppose the only thing I am thankful for is the confession recorded on my phone. Better to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
Jessica and Leanne briefed the police chief with the details of the evening. Jason Hicks was taken as a material witness. Since I couldn’t give up how Miranda hacked the Halo-Star servers, it was Jason’s testimony and the confession from my phone that backed the warrants needed to search Calvin’s home. Hair fibers and blood samples were found on Calvin’s clothes, his bed, and in the car he owned. The victim’s wallets were kept in drawers. Their DNA was found in the sinks. All of it was incriminating, enough to condemn him.
The revelations were appalling but served as an eye-opener for the department and the community. Everyone was so focused on pointing fingers and casting blame. None of it was productive and if it hadn’t been for my rebellious determination to get to the bottom of it, more people could have been seriously hurt or killed.
The protesting mob that gathered outside eventually broke up and started planning vigils. The police chief would later face criticism from his own department for dropping the assault charges against Jacory. He did shoot three officers, after all. But I guess losing a leg and having to register as a sex offender was punishment enough. His face, distinguished by those orange contact lenses and his bald brazen build, made it difficult for him to fit in with any neighborhood. He’d eventually go on to leave the state and start a new life somewhere in the Southside of Chicago.
Jason Hicks would lose his job as a paramedic. In fact, the community would forever think twice every time they saw an ambulance parked near a school. It’s kind of sad actually, how a few bad eggs can tarnish an entire occupation.
Griffin was golden. His clean image and tall statuesque build made him the perfect poster child for the department. The chief credited him with Calvin’s apprehension and planned on giving him a promotion. Even on the news, it was Det. Griffin’s face beaming as the man who caught the Slave Quarter Killer. He was lead detective after all. Everyone praised him for staving off years of racial tension that threatened to proliferate throughout the state and possibly the entire nation. In every hallway and every bullpen, Griffin received a warm welcome and another round of applause. Yes, the police were proud to have him, a paragon of exemplary service.
As for me…I didn’t hear any applause. No one came to shake my hand and tell me, “good job.” I sat on the examination table of the 1st floor infirmary receiving medical attention from a nurse who was all too eager to go upstairs and meet the darling Griffin. She slaps on a cold methane pack where the butt of my own gun hit me. Even touching it with something as soft as gauze would cause half my face to flare up something fierce. I fear its an orbital fracture that would require surgery.
Nope. I’m just a wimp.
The nurse doesn’t make conversation. She doesn’t ask how I got the bruises or what I did during the night. She doesn’t care why I’m wearing a bulletproof vest or why my back’s covered in dirt. Even when she fetches a bottle of painkillers, she just puts it on the tray next to me and promptly leaves the room. She doesn’t return.
After a while, I slowly turn to look in the mirror. I’m like Quasimodo with this face. My left cheek looks like it’s about to give birth to a plum. If I took off my shirt, I’m sure it would look like the aftermath of a paintball fight. And as much as I needed to rest this body and let it heal…I can’t let things stand as is. I just can’t.
I’m trudging up the stairway of the reception lobby when, halfway up, the hippy reporter Jimmy Coolidge sees me. I see him. His jaw drops at the state of me and like toddler in a museum he starts to point. He runs for the base of the stairway before two deputies grab him. He’s trying to tell them that they have to stop me, that they can’t let me go upstairs or near the prisoner. In his urgency, Jimmy throws a wild punch. The dodging deputy promptly drags him to the floor in a headlock. It’s quite comical, really. They throw him out on his ass, but not before blasting with pepper spray.
I’m at the top of the 2nd floor stairway when I see Malachi Sanders leading the convoy of Tavvy Godchaux and four older women I don’t recognize. The party seems in good spirits and Malachi is especially pleased to see me. I know my present state isn’t exactly easy on the eyes, but must they gawk? He encourages Tavvy and friends to wait for him down in the lobby. They agree, forcing polite smiles, oblivious that I just saved their precious Jacory from a death sentence.
Once we’re alone, Malachi asks, “Are you fine with this?”
He’s referring to a cheeky Det. Griffin plastered over the TV screens like a local celebrity. I exhale painfully as I look out and put a hand on the smooth banister.
“Why wouldn’t I be? Griffin’s a fine detective.”
“Then why are you the only one who looks like he’s been to hell and back?”
I don’t answer. It’s an annoying question.
Malachi grins. “Since the beginning, you believed young Mr. Jacory was innocent and you never gave up on him. The whole world should know what you’ve done yet you shy away from the spotlight. This is either the mark of a virtuous hero or an insidious villain.”
“Which are you?” I ask.
Malachi chuckles with a nod as he sets off down the stairs. “Something tells me we’re going to be good friends, Special Agent Cloud Beaudry. Do take care of yourself. Don’t go chasing waterfalls.”
Malachi thinks I’m going to dwell on that sentiment, the idea of a future collaboration. I won’t. I’ll put him in the same category as Jimmy Coolidge, the one labeled “I hope I never see you again.”
I make my way up to the 3rd floor bullpen where the spirit of celebration is still in full swing even as midnight approaches. Well…it was in full swing until I entered. My presence alone takes the wind from their sails. Griffin, Leanne, Jessica, Agent Dixon and a few other familiar faces are gathered around the vacant desk when they see me coming. Once again, I’m reminded of how grotesque I must look by the way of Leanne’s grimacing. She leans back as if I’m coughing up AIDS. I’m exaggerating, but still…
“Jesus, Cloud. Are you okay?” Leanne asks.
“I think I’ll get by.”
No one knows what to say. I’m not sure what it is about me that hinders human beings from giving me the credit I deserve and I’ll be honest, it sucks. Even getting compliments feels like I’m pulling teeth, yet they spread it amongst themselves so generously.
“I’m still upset with you.” Jessica says. “You went out to the slave quarters by yourself. Again! If you knew it was one of the paramedics, you should have told us!”
“Seriously?” I counter.
“What tipped you off?” Agent Dixon asks.
“The chloroform?” Griffin repeats.
“It’s in the report. Please don’t make me explain. It hurts to talk.”
“I’ll say.” Leanne chuckles. “If it wasn’t for Griffin you would’ve got your brains splattered all over the ground.”
“If you can barely talk, why are you here? You clearly don’t like being part of a team.” Jessica asks.
“Come on, agent. That’s a bit harsh,” says Griffin.
“Are you really that mad?” I ask her. “Not even four hours ago, the two of you were giving me crap for having doubted you in the first place. So I go off on my own to follow up on a hunch. And you’re mad because it led to the truth?”
“I’m mad because you could have died! You’re inconsiderate. And you’re an asshole.” she says before storming off.
“Arroyo, wait!” I say, latching onto her arm.
We lock eyes and the heat instantly stirs up in my chest.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper.
“Talk is cheap. Prove it.”
My god…that saucy Latino attitude. It gets the blood pumping, to say the least.
“Cloud, can I talk to you in my office?” Griffin asks abruptly.
He doesn’t wait for me to answer. He just brushes past my shoulder and moseys into his office. With a weary gaze, I turn to Leanne.
“I’m really tired. Can we leave after this? We’ll be back in the morning.”
Leanne grunts. “Fine, Cloud. Leave it to you to ruin a good party.”
I’m too tired to roll my eyes. As I head for Griffin’s office, I hear Jessica and Leanne saying their goodbyes. It’s music to my ears. Inside Griffin’s office, the tall soldierly detective is standing behind his desk, facing the certifications mounted on his wall. I close the door behind me.
“Cloud, I heard you volunteered for this case. Why?”
“This is my hometown. I’m not about to have it turned into another Ferguson.”
“Understood. To be honest, I never expected to see you again. I want you to know that I really did want to make amends for the past. But mostly I think I wanted to prove something to myself. The way we bungled your mother’s case, I thought solving this one would show you that I’m a different man. That I’m better. But just like with your mother’s case, you went and knocked this one out of the park all by yourself.”
“It’s not a game, Mark. Shouldn’t be a competition.”
“It shouldn’t be, but it is. Isn’t it? Tell me you didn’t feel some kind of drive when it was just me and you out there while the girls were out doing their own thing.”
“You want to know what drive I felt?” I begin. “It’s the same thing that kept me driven when my mother was killed. Revenge isn’t just some impulse by which people feel the urge to ‘get even.’ It’s closure. It’s building a bridge and getting the fuck over it. It’s closing the book on a very painful chapter to start anew with blank pages. As an officer of the law, I am sworn to seek vengeance for those who lack the means to obtain it for themselves. That’s justice. That’s the fuel that drives me.”
Griffin is completely taken aback as if he was brought up to a vantage point and shown the extent of all the lands. I know my intelligence is a blessing. I don’t want to feel arrogant or haughty, but damn. Griffin should know all this by now. He’s older and far more experienced than myself. He should be teaching me something, not the other way around. It’s a good thing my face is swollen otherwise I’d be giving him the stink eye.
He chuckles as he comes around the desk to sit on the edge in front of me. Crossing his arms, he begins nervously with, “You know, the girls told me how you thought I was the Slave Quarter Killer. I know this sounds strange, but I was happier when you thought I was the killer ‘cause I knew you were wrong. Can I ask? What changed your mind about me?”
My gaze settles on the floor as I struggle to hide my frustration. Damn! Those blindsiding bitches! And Jessica has the nerve to talk about “the team.” I’ve just solved a case and I’m trying to be nice, but I can’t ignore the big picture of what’s happened and all of it is extremely infuriating.
First off, putting aside that Griffin’s a racist with a badge, the main reason he wanted to work with me was just to compete. He didn’t give a damn about atonement for my mother’s case. He just wanted to show me up. Secondly, he cheated on his wife with Leanne. Leanne and Jessica both know he’s married. They know he committed adultery and yet they’re still acting all buddy buddy with him as if it’s perfectly acceptable. And maybe it is acceptable with mainstream society but it isn’t with me. One of the main reasons why my mother got so much crap from Hart and Griffin was because of her promiscuous lifestyle. The hypocrites. Then, these women have the nerve to chastise me for questioning Griffin’s character. And when I do, they go behind my back and throw me under the bus, which could’ve completely destroyed this case if Griffin actually was the killer. Hell, it could’ve gotten me killed!
I tell you…I’m only barely containing my rage right now. My reservoir of forgiveness has suddenly become bone dry.
With a light-hearted smile, I relax my shoulders and force myself to be more congenial. “You know, I never actually said that I thought you were the Slave Quarter Killer. I only kept asking what time you left Leanne’s because, if you can keep this between us, but I thought you were going after Jessica too. Haha! I kind of have a thing for her.”
“Oh…OH!” Griffin says erupting with laughter. “Nah man, I figured you and Jess had something going on, so I didn’t even want to go there. Haha! I see the way she looks at you, man. She’s always watching you.”
“Always watching me?” I inquire with a smile.
“Oh yeah! When you’re not looking, when you’re focused on something else, I swear that girl’s studying you like a hawk on a perch. The slave quarters. The hospital. On the dance floor. She definitely got the hots for you, brother.”
Great…I’m being watched.
“Well, before his lawyer gets here, I’m about to go down and see if I can get something out of our guy in the holding cell. You wanna come? I’m sure he’d love to see that shayna punim of yours again.” Griffin invites.
“Wait, are you Jewish?” I ask.
“No. Why?” He asks.
“No reason. Hey man, I’d love to but I’m beat. I’m gonna hit the shower and get some rest for the ride back tomorrow.” I tell hm.
He claps my hand and pulls me in for a hug. I accept his embrace, patting him on the back. This embrace, this manhug…it’s extremely awkward. We hug for well over five seconds and I feel his strength nearly lifting me off the ground. The shoulder pads of his black overcoat scrape against my already swollen cheeks and my annoyance flashes before I realized that I’d rather be tossed off a cliff than hug this bastard again. When he lets me go, he massages my bruised shoulders as he stares into my eyes like a proud father sending me off to college. My smile, I can’t tell if I’m concealing my repugnance or not. If he notices, he doesn’t let on.
“You guys will stop by before leaving tomorrow, right?”
I chuckle. “Absolutely. We can’t leave without saying goodbye.”
Outside, Jessica and Leanne are waiting for me under a street lamp at the bottom of the stairs. Both look cold and irritated as if they’ve been waiting for hours when it’s only been fifteen minutes. Of course, when they see me coming they cease their chattering. It’s high school all over again. I reach the bottom of the stairwell and suddenly I can’t help but smile.
“Come on. Let’s get going.” I urge with a playful nudge.
“Chloroform? Please. I would’ve figured it out.” Leanne claims.
“Honestly, if you came to us with that, about chloroform, did you really think we wouldn’t, at least, consider it?” Jessica asks.
“Come on! Let’s go.” I beg in a playful whimper.
“Hi, I’m Cloud Beaudry. I’m the smartest person on the planet. Ugh. Just want to push him into traffic.” Leanne mocks.
“No. Don’t do that.” I chuckle.
The three of us are walking down the sidewalk lined with squad cars. Jessica’s sulking with her arms crossed. She’s so cute. I can’t help but smile.
“Honestly, you two were so hellbent on it being Jacory, I didn’t have the heart to tell you about a hunch.”
“It wasn’t a hunch though! It was chloroform!” They protest, more or less in unison.
“Anyways…What’s with you guys ratting me out to Griffin? That I suspected him to be the killer?”
“He told you about that?” Leanne says in shock. “God. What an ass.”
“You should have told us anyway, Cloud.” Jessica complains. “If we came a minute later you’d be dead right now. Or is it, you really do have a death wish?”
“That deadline to have us return tomorrow pushed me in a corner. I had to take drastic measures,” I explain.
Jessica scoffs, shaking her head.
“Jess, it’s great to have you back after all these years. Truly, it is. If you or Leanne ever needs my help, I’m here for you. All you need do is ask and I’ll be there for you. However, if we’re going to continue being friends, in a relationship that extends beyond that of mere colleagues, I’m going to need for you to trust me. You too, Leanne.”
“What are you talking about? I do trust you!” Leanne claims.
“Do you?” I question.
Jessica stops in place, prompting Leanne and I to do the same.
I continue with, “All I’m saying, if we’re going to be a team, we need to trust each other. We need to look out for each other’s best interest. You should know that I’d never do anything to intentionally hurt you. Yes, I am weird. I’ll never ever be like Brody, or Griffin, or anyone else we meet. So don’t try to change me. If you can’t do this for me, if it’s beyond the scope of your capabilities, then please stay away from me. Stop following me. Stop watching me. Keep your distance. Because doubt and disbelief brings me more pain when it comes from people I care about. And whether I like it or not, it seems I’ve grown quite fond of you two. Your opinions mean a great deal to me. I wish they didn’t, but they do. There it is.”
Leanne and Jessica are awestruck by my solemn soliloquy. Everything I just said, I meant it. I opened the door to my heart and let my feelings pour out. Not sure what they’re thinking or if they believe me but its Jessica I’m worried about the most. Griffin claimed that she watched me when I wasn’t looking. It’s the same as when we were in college. I can’t tell if she’s infatuated or suspicious. Either way, prying eyes are the last thing I need for what I have to do.
Finally, Leanne smirks. When she does, a drop of spit flies out and lands on my lip. It’s disgusting. I wipe at it as my stomach churns and that salty sensation forms under my tongue. I really feel like I’m about to vomit but it kills the tension. Jessica and Leanne are laughing as they turn away to hide their smiles.
“Is he always so cordial?” Jessica asks.
“I never knew. I wish he would’ve told us this from the get-go.” Leanne says in her tearful snicker.
“Leanne…” I say, light-hearted. “I’m not sure if you realized this but you don’t listen too well.”
“Oh my god! Why is it that every freaking guy on the planet says that about me?!”
“Oh good. Its not just me.”
The way their faces drop…I burst out with laughter, proud of my delivery. Of course, she calls me a sorry piece of shit before joining in with the laughter. Jessica ushers us along. Our rental is just around the corner.
“I haven’t heard that wheezing laughter in over five years,” Jessica points out.
Oh yeah…apparently on the rare occasion when I do burst out with laughter, I have a tendency to wheeze.
“Cloud…did Calvin really wrestle the gun from your hands,” Jessica begins.
“Nope. No more, Jessica. We’re not going to talk about that. No more questions.”
“Well, you better get ready.” Leanne says. “Chomsky’s gonna wanna hear about it.”
“But seriously. He wrestled the gun from your hands?” Jessica doubted
“Seriously, Jess.” I grumbled.
“Seriously, Cloud. Seriously! Seriously! And you should probably get that eye checked out.” Jessica jokes.
“Seriously, you both need therapy.” Leanne chimes in. “I got an action junkie and a sociopath on my team.”
“Oh, Jess. Did you know they closed down Fort Discovery?”
“What?!” Jessica gasps.
“I know.” I mumble. “What’s the world coming to?”
Leanne takes over the conversation with prognostications about the upcoming trial and how the special interest groups will react in the morning. She thinks the public will fall in love with Calvin’s boyish good looks and accuse me of beating the confession out of him.
Anyways…We pat ourselves on the back for taking less than three days to solve the case. Jessica, especially, needed it. After her exodus from an abusive marriage to seek a new life with a new department, closing the case was a good sign. She was confident that Leanne and I would be a healing addition to her life. Her optimism soared.
Leanne, who initially abhorred the thought of having a new partner, was happy to have us. The ladies weren’t officially my partners, as this case was purely an ad hoc alliance, but Leanne would eventually regard us as her younger siblings. She’d depend on us when she hit a dead end in a case, or felt boxed in by some whirlwind romance she just trips and stumbles into on a seasonal basis.
As for myself…I confess I find it difficult to lose myself in celebration. One of my biggest flaws as a detective is that I get way too emotionally attached to each case I undertake. We may have caught the bad guy, but the video of KeNedra Thompson taking her own life still haunts me. The sadness and grief afflicting her family, Amarah, Jamar, and O’Shea. It resonates with me.
The photos of KeNedra in her home…she was so beautiful. So strong. Never again will she dance with her friends. She’ll never know what its like to go to college, graduate and enter the real world, the triumphs and struggles that come along with it. She’ll miss out on new, the superhero movies, the remakes and the sequels so many camp out to see. She won’t be around to embrace her future nieces and nephews. She won’t be around to take care of her mother…
Yes, while the jovial agents Leanne Donaldson and Jessica Arroyo looked to the future…I’m still a predator honed in on the hunt. My prey won’t see me coming. They never do. And once I sink my teeth in, I don’t let go. There’s no escape. Not for my enemies.