“You’re still thinking about her. Aren’t you?”
This is Maggie, a petite nineteen-year-old girl in a wrinkled black school uniform with a pleated skirt that came down past her knees. Her skin pigment has a pale white powdery complexion, which contrasts sharply with her black shoulder length hair and the bangs draping her forehead. She has a small v-lined face with a button nose. The entirety of her eyes is dark and solid. Like marbles.
Her whispers come through the bookshelves in a childish taunt. I squint with annoyance, perturbed by the question. Ignoring her is my best option.
At an isolated table on the 4th floor, I’ve created a workstation amongst the archives section of the DeKalb County Municipal Library. It was only a ten-minute stroll from headquarters, my own sanctuary from prying eyes.
There aren’t any windows on the 4th floor. Students and the wandering homeless thought the dark old walls and school desks were too creepy, so I had the floor all to myself as per usual. The overheads are off. Two table lamps are on. Shadows are abundant but that’s alright. Maggie lives for the shadows. She keeps the others at bay.
My laptop’s open and I got scattered police reports in front of me. The DA was depending on my testimony to lock up a husband who paid a friend to kill his wife. It should have been a slam-dunk case with all the incriminating text messages we dug up, but the problem was the “friend” was somewhat of a dunce. He was manipulated into thinking the husband was his best friend and was willing to take sole responsibility to keep the husband out of jail.
So, I spend the better part of my morning reacquainting myself with the case. Can’t let the husband get off the hook that easy. It wasn’t until Maggie made her presence known that I suddenly found it difficult to concentrate.
“You’re still thinking about her. I know you are!” She says, louder.
I don’t answer. I’m pinching the bridge of my nose as regret come flooding back. It’s annoying and unproductive. It’s difficult to focus on the case because it requires putting myself in the shoes of an actual husband. Romance or lack thereof is a strong motive for murder. Romance is an element sorely missing in my life and that’s not for lack of trying. Thus, frustration surfaces and I close the case file.
I turn my attention to another matter that’s easier to latch onto, easier for my mind’s eye to keep from thinking about Jessica’s smile, her hips, her…
Whipping out my smartphone, I thumb across the touchscreen to find the icon labeled “documents.” Inside the documents folder resides over 150 more folders, all labeled and organized with more files pertaining to specific subjects, cases, profiles, etcetera. There’s only one folder that remains ubiquitously labeled, “FILES.” It’s in here that I hide my secrets. The idea being, that if someone were to steal my phone with the intent of searching for incriminating evidence, they’d most likely be satisfied with the gratuitous amount of porn photos I stashed just for that occasion.
There’s nothing illegal on my phone. There’s nothing anyone would find suggesting I’m unlike any other man in today’s society. However…if anyone figured out the curious pattern of senior citizen deaths occurring in the Southeast region…and subsequently pulled correlating photos out of my “FILES” folder…I might be in some hot water. But the odds are in my favor, cause no one’s touching my phone and I hardly lose anything.
Scrolling through random newspaper clippings, I click a photo labeled “File 25”. This picture is a snapshot of names placed at the bottom of an official school photograph, a photograph of a 1959 sorority to be exact. There are thirty names on this photo and seven are highlighted in purple.
This is my hit list.
Seven sorority girls were responsible for the murder of Margaret “Maggie” Sutherland. After the death of Florence Leach there are only two more left. I didn’t always have this list. In the beginning, I relied on Maggie to simply tell me the names. It was a foolish mistake. Silly me for thinking ghosts were incapable of lying. We ended up killing two great-grandmothers at a retirement home who had nothing to do with the murder. Maggie simply didn’t like them for petty reasons.
Since then, I did some investigating and singled out seven individuals who provided false statements to the police. They claimed to have witnessed Maggie jumping to her death and even fabricated journal entries to make it seem as if she was narcissistic, as if she committed suicide to be immortalized by her peers and campus folklore. Before we followed through with revenge, I resolved to always get a confession. Without a confession or solid evidence of their involvement, I refused to execute.
My next target is a 78-year-old woman named Crystianne Yeager. I type her name in a search engine and sit back to examine the results. Her image pops up, along with fifteen websites of articles written about her. A mist of cold air presses against my left arm and I know that Maggie’s standing next to me.
“Crystianne!” Maggie hisses.
My eyes glide over to examine Maggie’s pale glowing scowl. The disdain is apparent. But then again, when isn’t it? The cool thing about Crystianne is that her results came up instantly. With the other senior citizens I had to do some intensive digging. It took me months to track them down individually. Thankfully Crystianne Yeager isn’t exactly a common name.
“What did she do?” I ask, propping my chin up by my elbow.
“She was the worst,” Maggie snarls, her lips quivering with rage.
“You do realize you’ve said that before?” I remind her.
Her head turns with a violent hair-whipping jerk. She makes sure I see the intensity in her dark marble eyes. But I’m not fazed.
“She pretended to be my friend! There’s nothing worse than someone who pretends to be your friend and stabs you in the back. You’d do well to remember that, boy!”
“I’ve known her since before college. We were on the same cheerleading squad in grade school. I confided in her. We did everything together! When her parent’s divorced it was I who commiserated with her. I was there for her in the depths of her sorrow and she betrayed me for popularity and a bump in social status. She was the one who told me to come back to the dorms where those packs of hyenas lay in wait. I can never forgive her. She’s still alive! We must kill her!”
The emotion isn’t fake. Maggie wouldn’t come to the brink of burning tears in an attempt to sway the likes of me. The details in her revelation matches her emphatic conviction so I sit up and show some respect. Time to learn more about this despicable Crystianne.
And of course…turns out she’s not so despicable after all.
The first link in the search results brings me to a children’s hospital based in Savannah where apparently Crystianne is a senior member of the board. This woman, her good works in the community and extensive education in child development is quite impressive. She’s been with the John Wesley Institute of Child Development for the past twenty years. During that time she managed to clean up the injustices with the foster system and tended to abused orphans. Many of those orphans have grown up and joined her cause. The heartwarming photos of Crystianne embracing them…I know it’s upsetting Maggie.
I click another link. It’s Crystianne’s personal blog managed by another one of her former students. This is bad. Unlike Florence and the other seniors we killed, Crystianne is the only one who seems to have actually repented. According to her blog, she confesses to taking part in an unspeakable tragedy during her teens. To atone for her sins, Crystianne remained celibate, never marrying, never having offspring of her own. Instead, she devoted her life to God and the unfortunate children struggling to find a home of peace, love, and security. A regular Mother Theresa, this one.
“Well!?” Maggie barks.
There’s a twitch under my eyes. My poker face is usually on point but I confess, I don’t like the idea of killing someone who appears truly reformed. How can I explain this to Maggie? Would she even approve? It’s times like this that I begin to wonder whose truly the master in our relationship. Either way, it’s best to reserve my thoughts for the time being.
“Don’t worry, Maggie. We’ll get her.”
Maggie drops to lean over me, her forearm slamming into the table with a loud wooden bang. “YOU BETTER!” She wails just inches from my face with an insidious smile.
She echoes. It’s startling, stiffening the muscles in the back of my neck. Suddenly she turns away, like a cat spooked by something in the distance. I sigh with relief to see it’s just Miranda walking down the center aisle. When I swivel back to Maggie, she’s gone. Typical.
“Hey boy. What’s wrong with you?” Miranda asks with keychains jingling from her hips. The rattling ice in her soda cups sound unusually loud as she brings over burgers and fries. I rise to help her to get situated and she’s already venting about how rotten everyday people are.
Miranda Burnette…A strong black woman nearing forty, maintaining a firm body good enough to snatch any man she wants. Miranda was once my mother’s only friend, waitressing at the same dirty saloon and doing what she could to look out for her. When my mother died, Miranda confronted Joe Howard and almost lost her own life in the process.
Since then, I somehow took my mother’s place as Miranda’s closest friend. She followed me out to Atlanta and after jumping from job to job, I encouraged her to take the required courses to become a court certified process server and a de facto private investigator. Miranda has a knack for getting up in people’s business, telling them like it is, and then hitting them with a subpoena. There were a few times when I had to show up with my gun and knock a couple of guys around, but other than that, Miranda is more than capable of taking care of herself.
She also knows about my “condition.” Miranda’s the only person on Earth who knows about Maggie and what I can do. She’s never seen Maggie, but believes me. She’s my confidant. My partner. The only one I trust with my life.
“Just came from the SunStrip off of McEvers in Buckhead. This donkey looking pimp call himself trying to back into my car, but there was a cop parked right across the street. Hahaha! Got caught red handed. Dumbass! I slipped the divorce papers in his pocket while they were Tasing his ass. With that fake-ass gatah suit. His hoes came at me and they were bout ready to get smacked the fuck up. I’m sorry, baby. Got my blood pressure all up. I’m tryin to quit smoking but these people out here! Lord have mercy.”
She takes out a pack of Lucky 99s and lights one up. I cross arms and shoot her a look. I’ve been telling her for the longest time that she needs to quit. Slang and profanity wasn’t part of Miranda’s everyday rhetoric. But when she gets heated like this, she rattles off with a thin filter. I don’t mind.
“I know I need to quit, but they workin’ on my last nerve,” Miranda fumes.
“And you intend to burn out that last nerve with this?”
I reach over and gently slide the cigarette from her fingertips. I don’t put it out. Instead, I take a puff myself and slip the rest of the pack into my pocket.
“Oh dear,” Miranda smirks. “That don’t look good. I take it things didn’t go well with Ms. Florence Leach?”
“On the contrary. Everything went according to plan. Florence Leach has expired.”
“Then what’s the problem? Maggie should be good.”
“Good? As if…Here we have our next target and already she’s crackin’ the whip.”
Miranda turns my laptop her way. As she leans closer, my observation whispers indications she tried to hide. She downplayed her story about the strip club. She reeks of rubbing alcohol and antiseptic. One tug of Miranda by the lapel and she winces. Under her brown leather jacket, there’s fresh gauze wrapped around her arm with spots of red. She sucks her teeth and looks away dismissive. One of the strippers cut her.
“It was nothing. Shit like this happens all the time.”
“Then we should find you another job.”
“Un-uh. Don’t go there. You don’t get to go there. I ain’t the one running up in people’s houses in the middle of the night, stalking grannies or tryin’ to be water aerobics instructors just to get intel.”
“I’m a trained agent.” I remind her.
“I’m a servant of the court!” She reminds me.
There’s a stare down between us. She snatches back her cigarette and inhales hard, still glaring at me out of the corner of her eye. Miranda…Her problem isn’t that she’s bad at her job. She just likes confrontation way too much. You won’t conquer her with compliments and confections. It’s conflict she craves.
“If something were to happen to you…” I whisper.
“I know, baby. This lady will be extra careful. I pwomise!” She says in a cute cartoony voice.
“I can’t be worrying about you, Miranda. Not now,” I grumble.
“What happened, Cloud? Talk to me.”
“There could be…complications. Listen, do you remember me talking about a girl named Jessica Arroyo?”
Miranda shakes her head no as she starts eating.
“Jessica Arroyo is a woman who…”
It’s odd. How to describe her? My honesty opinions and the facts might disagree with each other. So I opt to tell Miranda everything and trust that she’ll understand and tell it to me straight.
“As you know, I don’t particularly have a fond opinion of my fellow Millennials. I believe we are easily influenced. I believe we are forgetful of significant history. And I believe we think we are selfish individualists who refuse to see the big picture if it goes against our own personal ambitions. That being said, I don’t see myself as one of them. You’re probably the only person I’ll admit this to, but yes, I honestly do think most Millennials are beneath me. However, there is but one of my fellow peers who I can honestly say I see as my equal. Her name is Jessica Arroyo.”
“And she is?”
“An infection, a persistent virus that never truly leaves the body. It’s only suppressed and contained by isolation and time away from irritant exposure. Jessica and I graduated from the same school, always competed academically. I’ve had a crush on her since I was fifteen, which was depressing as I watched her date asshole after asshole. She was one of the most popular girls in the school, magically excelling at everything while I was the fat loser who kept my nose buried in the books. If that’s not bad, she even beat me out to take the valedictorian spot while I was salutatorian. And to make matters worse, by pure friggin happenstance, she ended up attending the same college, enrolling in the same programs, same classes, the same degree. It was horrible. Alright, it wasn’t horrible, but it was tormenting.”
“I’m confused. Are you jealous of her? Or are you in love with her?” Miranda asks, making light of the predicament.
“Neither! I think every man has a certain point in which they’ve seen the love of their life passed between too many dudes. That ship has sailed.”
Miranda starts to snicker but I continue in a mindless prattle.
“That ship has sailed! Moreover, beauty like that has a way of ensnaring a man. The problem resides in the fact that, like me, she’s a natural born detective. You should have heard her thesis in our criminology classes. With every answer she gave, it’s like she was taking the words right out of my mouth. People always seem to be so puzzled. It confounds them to understand the motives of killers and con artists, but like me, Jessica just gets it. This leads me to believe that beneath her happy-go-lucky façade, her heart is just as dark as my own. She’s just better as hiding it.”
“I’m telling you, Miranda. Her immense beauty belies the fact that she is extremely intelligent. She knows me. More than that, she always used to think we were friends, which freaking sucks because it’s with types like that where if you push her away it’ll only create more questions in which she won’t stop until she gets to the bottom of it. She was there the morning after Maggie’s first kill. She was there when I came back from my mother’s funeral. If I’m not careful…”
…I want to say I might have to get rid of her but I refrain.
“Sounds like all this went down years ago. What? Is the bitch back?”
“Yes. Leanne’s probably finishing up the grand tour as we speak. I saw her, Miranda. She’s still so flawless,” I say, utterly hopelessness.
Miranda chuckles over her lime soda. “It ain’t easy being Cloud Beaudry, is it? Would you like my advice?”
“Please,” I invite with open palms.
“Sounds to me like you just need to get it out of your system. Hit that once and you’ll be all right. Trust me. Won’t even look at her the same way.”
It’s not what I wanted to hear.