Queen Bessie: From Victim to Queen

Her palms were sweating through the handkerchief she held in them. She tapped her foot on the tiled floor nervously. Her heart pounded so loudly that she heard every beat. She shifted in her seat, glancing towards the door. She figured she could make it out of the restaurant fast enough that she would not run in to him on her way out. She pushed her seat back with her and was preparing to get up and run when the waitress came to her with a smile, “Can I get you a drink while you wait? Maybe some bread for the table?” She leaned back, looking at the waitress while she made up her mind. “Actually, yes! Can I get a cocktail?”

“Which one? We have our house cocktail ‘the club special’; we also have a Pinacolada that has won some awards. Oh and….” The waitress was overly eager.

“Which is your strongest?” She cut her off rather crudely. She definitely was not interested in their award winning cocktail ingredients.

“Well, it kind of depends. We make them very mild to suit everyone but we can increase the alcoholic content at your request. Say! For instance……”

“Ok. Good! Get me your Club Special with the maximum alcohol content you are allowed for it.” She cut her off again. She wasn’t in the mood for friendly human interaction.

“Ok, Ma’am.” The waitress was still at it. “And may I ask? Do you prefer a slice of……” She had really had it with this perky cheerful drop of freaking sunshine waitress so she gently placed her arm on hers.

“Sweetie. I know you’re doing your job and you know what? You’re great at it.” The waitress’ eyes sparkled, indicating that this was not a thing she heard very often. “But I’m not in a chirpy, hyperactively good customer service mood. So get me your club special, lots of booze and no ice. No fruit, No vegetables, nothing. That’s it! Can you do that, honey?” The waitress nodded and skipped away.

She turned towards the door again. She was now facing a new variable to her calculations. She was now evaluating the possibility of escape before her drink or her date had arrived. She got out her phone. It is was 15 minutes past the hour. He was late, a little but still late. She didn’t know if this fact brought relief or anger. Did she want him to be late? Did this momentary lapse of punctuality raise a red flag that she was not yet aware of? Did this mean he was always late and she should get used to it? Was he standing her up? Had he forgotten about her? Or did he hear something from someone about her? It must have been something he heard or something he researched. With Google and online government databases, not to mention that ‘the incident’ was indeed public knowledge, he must have found out. Once again she regretted it; the party, the assault report, the dreadful court case, everything.

It had been exactly 2 years, 8 months and 13 days since she was raped by men, no monsters, whom she had assumed were her friends and she had never really been the same afterwards. Maybe it was the betrayal by friends she’d held dear, or the unnecessary intense scrutiny she had received reporting the case, Maybe, it was the case itself and the way her school’s publication followed every motion, every ruling, Maybe it was just the rape. The whole thing had changed her so much. She was once outgoing, overly social and extremely friendly; the real life of the party. But one fatefully rainy day in November, her charismatic strengths led her to her impending doom. She in her third year of Veterinary School and so far she was enjoying every part of it. Her grades were good, she was sufficiently involved in campus activities and she had made friends, most of the male variety, but only because not a lot of women glamorized the care of farm animals like she did, but it wasn’t something that had bothered her much. One Friday in November, she was invited for a small after-school get together. The message had said, “Lots of food, music and drinks. Bring your own girl.” At the time, she giggled at the sentiment that each was to appear with a female companion. At the same time, she was relieved that she wouldn’t be the only female attending this party. Friday evening rolled through swiftly, she walked with a few of her closest study buddies to an off-campus residence apparently belonging to a friend of a friend. They said he didn’t mind a bunch of strangers partying at his house, he actually enjoyed it. On their way there, Bessie did what she assumed was research; diligently asking Kobe if he knew this guy enough to trust him. He didn’t really know him. She asked Patrick and Phil (Short for Philemon) the same, they gave no more detailed answers than Kobe. She stopped dead in her tracks, the boys soon after she did. She said, “Guys, are we sure about this? I mean I love a party just as much as the next girl but I don’t know how I feel about this.” The men were quick to calm her with words like, “You’re going with us aren’t you? We’ll make sure nothing fishy happens. Don’t worry. He’s Jay’s Friend. We’re all friends, aren’t we?” Looking back, she now knew that was the moment she should have turned back and walked straight to her hostel a few paces away. She wished she did, but instead she believed these friends of hers and walked on towards her personal Armageddon.

It was twenty minutes past the hour now. The overly cheerful waitress returned with her drink and enough sense not to say much to her. Her date was now twenty minutes late and counting. She stirred her drink with her straw before she took it out and took a large swig of her drink. It was strong but for the kind of day she was having, it wasn’t strong enough. She would need a few more if she was to make it to the end of this evening and even more to spend the evening on this date. You see, Bessie had been having a totally normal day when she received a message to a friend with a link. “Gang Rape at Veterinary School: Do you know what you’re children are doing while away?” Her heart had sunk at the moment when the headline popped up on the screen. It hadn’t returned to normalcy yet. She knew the court case was public record but she had never assumed that some journalist would use it. Apart from her rescuer and a few friends, no one knew what had happened. The school publication had been smart enough to redact all facts that led to her identity. Despite this fact, she had not returned to school after that. She dropped out and convinced her parents that she was more into entrepreneurship now. She wished she had let her parents know exactly what happened that November Night. But now the damage was pretty much done. There was no saving face or damage control at this point. The stage at which she had arrived required truthfulness and courage to relive the incident every time she told it. It was excruciating to think about. She hadn’t read the article all the way through, just the headline was enough to send her stomach into painful knots.  She got out her phone. It had been off since she read the headline; she wasn’t quite ready for the mental torture. She would see if she was now. She powered it up. The tiny aluminum colored device began to dance on the table violently; everyone was looking for Bessie. Her name must have leaked in the article as her phone vibrated violently seeking her attention. She ignored the messages, she wasn’t in the mood to be pitied and judged all at the same time.

The headline had already made it to her browser’s news reel. She clicked on the headline. As it loaded at what seemed to be a snail’s pace, she could already tell that even though the headline seemed generalized and informative, the article was specific to her case and vindictive. For why, even though he thought he was serving the greater good, would a journalist publish her name and all the particulars of the case without asking if he should share or conceal her, the victim’s identity. The first thing that she saw on the website was her school ID picture. She must have been 17 when that was taken. The caption read ‘Beatrice, now 20, was forced to drop out after she was unable to convince the school administration that her rape was not her fault.’

“What?” Bessie exclaimed loudly. Everyone turned in their seats to look at her. She did not notice. She began reading the article. And as if the publicity surrounding her rape were not enough, the author of the article all but asserted that Bessie caused her own rape. He used quotes like ‘A girl like Beatrice is known to play hard to get in the daylight and let too loose in the evening. These girls tease our boys then get intoxicated around them expecting them to express nothing but self-control and awe for their tiny outfits’ Again, her inner voice reminded her that reading this article would cause nothing but harm and emotional trauma. She had to police her heart, her therapist had always insisted. You mustn’t allow yourself to be exposed to triggers for your condition. That’s what he called it, a condition. At first, it had bothered her so she asked that he called an illness meaning that it was curable. He had declined stating that it was in fact incurable but optimistically he added that it was a treatable condition.  She stared at her phone. She should have been calling the therapist or at least her date but instead she kept reading the foulest words she had ever heard or read about herself.  This time she focused on seeing if any of her rapists had been mentioned. Then another quote ‘Your sons like these young men charged with the alleged rape of Beatrice are being lured like snake bait and then arrested for giving in to their most primal urges. Ludicrous!’

“Ludicrous?” She was laughing now while she spoke out aloud. “It’s not ludicrous to be a rapist in the first place?” When she looked up from her laughter, her date stood before her gazing at her. She composed herself quite quickly and said hello. He replied taking his seat across from her.

“Why you’re in a good mood for a girl whose date is half an hour late. What are you reading there?” He gestured at her phone. She instinctively covered the phone not wanting to bring up the whole article or rape thing and looked straight in his eyes. They gleamed with curiosity behind the gleaming was a sparkle that you could not miss. The sparkle in the eye of a man about to crown his queen. This man had been obsessed with her for a few months now and she couldn’t figure out why. They never did anything other than meet for meals and talk. He had always been a gentleman and never even asked why he was never permitted to ask her out on a more intimate date. Most guys gave up at around the third month of expensive lunches and fancy coffees but here he was, eight months later, with that damn sparkle in his stupid big brown eyes. Why didn’t he just give up? Why didn’t he just run!

“So? What’s so ludicrously funny?” He leaned forward, placed his hand over hers and looked deep into her eyes. She was uncomfortable, blood rushing to her face. She began to breathe heavily, deeply as if taking him in, all of him.

“It’s nothing. Just this article.” She wasn’t going to say anything more but somehow it just slipped out. “It’s about me actually. I made the news.” His face lit up.

“Can I read it?” She glanced at his hands over her hands over her phone. It felt like a crude metaphor for what would be of their relationship when she showed him. To reveal what had happened to her, would require her to detach from him first; for her to see him, not as a potential lover, but as a stranger or a plutonic buddy. In her mind, there was no way for them to continue down the path of love after he knew what happened to her.

“No. You can’t. I shouldn’t be reading it either.” His face cringed, he withdrew one palm from the table then the next.

“Why?” The look in his eye was less loving and more curious now. Bessie looked him genuinely trying to decide if her rape was coffee house conversation or pillow talk or one of those ‘never’ conversations. How would this man react to hearing what he wants has been had over and over again by force over her screaming and kicking? He could tell she was battling something deep within. He reached out for her hands again. She withdrew, leaving him to cuff her wrists. She tried to break free, the sensation of his hands around her wrists feeling oddly the same as that night. A feeling of restraint, not affection. Phil had held her down, just like that. She tried again. He wouldn’t let go. He was looking at her squirm and obsess like a caged animal. It seemed absurd, since he didn’t mean to restrain her but to keep her from withdrawing from the conversation. He let go eventually with a heavy sigh; he gave up trying to pry it out of her.

“I read it, Bessie.”

“What?”

“I read the article. It’s everywhere, I’m sorry.” She looked away, fighting back tears with every fibre of her being. He continued speaking, “Frankly, it was distasteful and in my opinion, downright disgusting.” Bessie buried her face in her hands, realising that she couldn’t fight the tears anymore. “I know this is not how you wanted to break it to me. I know maybe you didn’t want to break it to me at all. I know you’re scared that what those animals did to you will follow you forever. I know this article kind of reinforces this fear.” She looked up now, scrambling for a napkin to dry her eyes. He continued while she blew her nose noisily, “It’s not your fault. It can’t even be. I wasn’t there, I know that but I also know you. You are kind-hearted and cheerful and no one!” He took her hands in his, looking her directly in the eyes which at this point felt like a dagger to her soul. “No one, Bessie, least of all you deserves such hostility and injustice. They tried to strip you of your soul, your being and your essence, yet here you are standing tall exuding strength and bravery that I could only dream of. I know you thought I’d run; for a hot second I thought I would too; but how? How could I leave a gem just because it is buried somewhere beneath the surface? I couldn’t possibly leave when I know that I will not, no, cannot find someone as brave as strong as the queen who sits before me. “

Breaking Chains

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Hon. Hajji’s Bigger, Better

Mrs. Hajji was talking her husband’s ear off about the children. “Rose …this…. Paul ….that…. and Minysteria’s just rude.” Hon. Hajji didn’t indulge; he had already said what he needed to say about his children to his children. Not to say, he wasn’t bothered by the disappointment they had brought him; but rather he did not care to speak his wife on this matter as she would just fuel the fire. She was the eternal bad cop when it came to their Super Parenting Team; Hajji suspected that this was only because she would rather have all his attention to herself and all the wealth too. Hon. Hajji imagined how amazing it would be if his wife and children weren’t so spoilt; if they did not act as if privileges afforded to them were rights. Had they raised the children wrong? Or was it the pressure of being in the political eye for most of their formative years? He reminisced about the days when Paul, his son looked up to him and followed him everywhere possible. Now it seemed as if he strayed as far as he could from his father and his career path. He looked back fondly at the days when Roselyn had big ceiling-shattering dreams that did not involve her being naked or objectified. However, now it seemed that if it did not objectify her, she didn’t want it. Minnie was on the right track at least her career was; in a matter of fact that was the only thing going right in her life and Hajji suspected that her defects were much deeper than her siblings’.

 

These were not the children of a Career Politician; they were the children of an arrogant rich man. He unconsciously feared that his children and their failures were the main reason the party wouldn’t nominate him for the bigger better position he always pushed for. He had been in politics for almost 30 years now; 20 as a Member of Parliament with each election yielding better and better results but nothing higher.  He wanted to move on to bigger better things. Even though he held an enormous degree of power and influence, he had been limited to the same old constituency for 30 years. He felt like he was still someone’s henchman;  articulating orders that came from higher up. He still answered to the party. Like all first-timers, he had been honored to serve in any way at the beginning but 30 years of stifled policies and shot-down ideas left him with little honor and fleeting loyalty. He hadn’t decided on how he was going to break into this Bigger Better position yet but he knew for sure that he would have to fight a lot of adversity for it.

 

“Hon. Hajji! Hon. Hajji! Hon. Hajji!” It took Jabari three tries to get the Mheshimiwa’s attention, “I have the Party Chairman, Hon. Chacha for you on the line.”

Hajji immediately discerned that he was not in the right mindset to speak to the Party Chairman. “Tell him I’ll return his call after the charity event.”

“Yes, Sir. “ Jabari spoke calmly into his phone and turned to Hon. Hajji again. “He says it can’t wait.”

Hon. Hajji reached over for the phone, put his hand over the voice receptor and took a deep breath before putting it to his ear.

“Chacha! I didn’t think I’d hear from you until the next Fundraiser.”

“Ahaha! Hajji don’t kid me. We spoke last week. “The voice on the other side did not portray the playfulness of its statement. Hon. Chacha’s voice was stern and urgent.

Hon. Hajji’s eyes widened as he collected himself. He could tell that this was an important call. He asked dutifully,” What can I do for you, Mr. Chairman?”

“Your Annual Hajji Foundation Charity Event is today, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Now I may be divulging information that exceeds your rank but you are our most popular Member of Parliament in the area.”

“Last time I checked.” Hajji smiled a little.

“Well, we are far behind our projection targets for the General Election and we feel that only you would be able to boost us to where we need to be.”

“Chaaacha.” Hon. Hajji tried to level with the Party Chairman. “You know how I feel about talking politics at my Foundation’s events. In its 17 years, I have never.”

“This is not lost on me, Hajji. IT. IS. NOT. But President Kibaraka may not succeed in re-election if we don’t take some drastic measures. Ones that maybe we haven’t taken for 17 years or even more. “

“I don’t see how my remarks will tilt the scale.” Hon. Hajji was careful not to show too much of his apprehension. “Seeing as the president’s poll numbers fell right after the audits of those two government entities were released detailing deep-rooted corruption and rampant mismanagement. How did that even happen, Chacha?”

Hon. Hajji could feel the Party Chairman’s face turn bright red from the other side of the phone. His breathing was now heavy enough for Hajji to hear, lucidly.

“Now look here. You are either with the party or you are against it. You cannot straddle the fence and if you choose to, we will have to find you a new party to run with in the next general election. I call you with complements and praise and out of the benevolence and goodness of my heart, ask you, not tell you, to do something for me and you throw doctored audit reports and corruption claims in my face! Hajji, I must just say I am…. “

“I have offended you. I apologize. I will make a few remarks about our good ol’ president.” Hon. Hajji extinguished the fire before it turned into an inferno. A good politician knew when to compromise on his honor; that is if he wanted to remain a politician and an active one at that.

“You better.” Hon. Chacha hung up and Hajji passed the phone back to Jabari.

“How much longer, Jabari?”

“About 45 minutes”

Hon. Hajji turned to his wife, “How do you feel about an independent Member of Parliament for a husband.” His voice tried to convey perky and casual but came out jaded, just jaded. His wife was not known for concealing her immediate emotions; in fact it often worked to his disadvantage as his wife would openly sneer at press conference and ugly cry at politician’s funeral. She was photographer’s candy at any event they attended. However, Hon. Hajji loved that his wife wore her emotions on her sleeve, he could always tell what she was thinking; what she was feeling. Lying between them was simply not an option. It had kept them together for forty years and it would keep them together even longer, maybe even forever. But this time was different, her face went blank; no expression; no emotion; nothing.

“Martha? Did you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“And?? What do you think?”

“I don’t know……”

“Don’t know what??”

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Henry! “ Martha raised her voice a notch.

“What does that mean? I want your opinion. I thought that was clear.”

“No; you either want me to talk you out of it like I’ve always done or you want me to act somewhat supportive while you throw away 30 years of building rapport and coming up in the party.” She looked Hon. Hajji dead in the eye, her stare piercing his soul, revealing years of dissatisfaction and discomfort working in the party, “So which one is it, Henry? “

“I’ve been back and forth about this and that call from the Conniving Chacha just sealed it. I can’t stay. Winning party or not. The rot is deep and the most rotten lead us like dictators. “Hon. Hajji sighed. “I’m not ungrateful; at least I didn’t mean to be. But this is the party that plucked me from university politics with big dreams and better promises. This is not the party that gave me a platform big enough to get elected and help me finally implement some of my ideas for development. Somewhere, some when, somehow the party began to rot from the head down leaving me surrounded by people with whom I do not share a common principle or dream. I want Bigger! I want Better! And if that is to come true, the party is not the best channel with which to do it.”

“I’m going to be blunt, Henry Hajji, because that is what you need from me right now.” She looked away while she continued. “This country was built by men like you, Henry. That is why the party saw something in you so many years ago and funded your campaigns. And Unlike that party, you are still the same man; wiser and bolder but still governed by the same integrity. That is not something many men in your position can say honestly. You have not allowed your principles to fall for the spoils of power, and that has made you the most popular man in this region. From where we sit, it looks like it all works in your favor. But while you were busy developing your principles and standing by them, the country, just like the party, changed; and not for the better. Look around Henry, that Conniving Chacha orchestrated the selling of his country to foreigners. What he didn’t sell, he privatized and kept for himself and his cronies. He placed a puppet at the top and began to pull his strings. You wouldn’t just be fighting the party opponent in the constituency if you were to run independent, you’d be fighting Chacha, the party, the president, the whole damn country! This may not be what you wanted to hear but it is every single bit true. Bigger and better, also means harder and bloodier, Henry. ”

Hailey: Bold Vs. Backward

“Why do we have to? Why do I have to?” Hailey let out a sigh and pouted visibly. Her pout brought out all her good features as she pouted with her whole face; her curly blonde locks paved way for her excellent cheekbones, sharp, defined. Her broad African nose wrinkled perfectly highlighting her big blue eyes.

“Because you just do!” Her father barked at her as he tried to fit his big brown broad-rimmed hat round the corners of his head. “Now, again. You tell them your name is NJAMBI, not that American rendition you keep advertising. ”

“Hailey has been my name for a long time. If I am correct, all my life. I don’t understand why I have to change it now for some relatives I barely know.” Her father’s eyes narrowed with the slightest pang of anger.

“Also I want you to use the language. At least try to. We want these people thinking you’re wholesome home-grown Gikuyu woman. Mutumia Gatha. Ready for marriage!” He was calmer with this decree, knowing it would be hard for her to converse with strangers in a language she had only just begun to learn.  Hailey nodded giving up her comfort for the day even though she could not grasp why exactly.

“You may want to spend most of the day helping in the kitchen and serving the men. A domesticated woman fetches a lot more than a spoilt one, Njambi. Smile, too! It’s important.” He mimicked to her through the mirror’s reflection.

“What is thing called again, dad?” Hailey began to lean into her woes.

“We call it a ruracio. It is a dowry negotiation ceremony, a coming together of families, an alliance! “He declared while he turned on his heel, rather too ceremoniously.

“Sounds like a bore. Dad, I’ve told you enough times. Allan is nice but I don’t want to marry him. “Hailey’s big blue eyes pleaded with her father to reconsider.

“Njambi, my dear, my only daughter, the only thing they let me carry home with me when they deported me,” He moved to closer to his daughter, bent down and held her face close to his, “We are in Africa now. OK? And in Africa, your father says you marry, you marry. Now for the last time, Kamau is the man for you, PERIOD! “He screamed, with his eyes fixed on hers before he threw her face away from his, letting go. Hailey’s eyes began to sting with tears. All too visibly, her light-skinned cheeks began to fill with rose color.

“It’s….. It’s……. It’s just backward to arrange my marriage to Allan.” She retorted between tears feeling herself refuse to subdue or submit.

“Backward? You dare call your ancestry backward! You listen here, and you open your ears and listen good. This is your home now and there is no Gloria Steinem here! No Germaine Greer and No Susan B. Anthony to save you from your God-granted duties. In this country, men lead and women follow. Men speak and women obey. You are a woman and you are no different!” He said this, eyes fixed on Hailey as she reacted. She rose and fled the room, head in hands.

A year ago, Hailey was a very different person, in a different country, living a different life with different people. Then her mother passed away, a young Caucasian woman in her forties leaving behind a Kenyan husband and her mixed race daughter. At the time, her father had been inconsolable for about three months. He didn’t speak, he didn’t eat, he didn’t work and he didn’t sleep. Even though Hailey was in her early twenties, she had never realized that her mother was, in fact, the breadwinner and her father simply just worked to fill his time. Something that only came to the light when Hailey and her father began to struggle financially after she died. They lost their house and found themselves in a homeless shelter. All of a sudden, Hailey’s father was all too eager to see Hailey find a job and support them. Unfortunately, not much in the way of employment materialized for any of them; but to be honest, Hailey was the only one trying.

Then after three months of grief, something changed. Hailey didn’t know what exactly. They did not return to the shelter. Instead, Hailey’s father rented a penthouse out of the blue. He ‘employed’ Hailey as his housekeeper as payment for letting her live with him. He hopped back on the dating scene after twenty years, bringing home women who were barely her seniors. Hailey endured this for few months, though grateful that they weren’t penniless and homeless. Then one fateful day, a persistent banging rang at the door, in the dead of the night while her father was ‘entertaining’. And as sure as the sunrise she saw every morning, something was indeed wrong with how her father had procured the penthouse and his new lifestyle. He was running an immigration scam for Africans; taking huge sums and promising non-existent green cards. So he was deported and she with him to a land she had never been to and considered the farthest from home.

She sat at the front door step crying, while she stared at her dress. It was itchy and a little too big for her. She wasn’t comfortable, with any of it. The move, the ‘ceremony’, the dress, the way her father spoke to her, the forced marriage, the foreign name. She looked out into the horizon. The magnificent rolling hills covered in vibrant green took her breath away and even in the state of discomfort she had been forced into, she still felt drawn to the land’s beauty, its abundance, its magnificence. She couldn’t fathom such a beautiful place could be so…….

“Eh! Tuthie! Her father barked from behind her while he tapped her shoulder which what looked like a dead cow’s tail but he called a ‘fly whisk’. Startled, she completed her thought. Horrible. Getting up behind her father, she realized the only way to survive this day was to either be bold or backward.

Curious Collusion – Det. Cooper Series

“So did you catch him? You’re here for back-up, aren’t you? Coop? Coop?” Brown appeared at Coop’s side out of nowhere when he walked into the station. His grin beaming from ear to ear. Last time he checked, they were inches away from catching a murderer; scratch that, a serial killer with a suicide fetish. Being a homicide detective that was like a home run or a three pointer that puts your team up by one just before the buzzer goes off, and Brown was gunning to be the MVP. It was a big break for this team! But Coop didn’t speak at first, he only maintained a stone-cold look on his face; the face of a man calculating and associating.

“Back at square one, Brown!” Coop sighed loudly as he dropped himself in his chair. Brown taking his next to him. He flipped through the Nursing home’s visitors’ logs as Brown just stared at him. Brown knew to give Coop a moment when he had been let down by a lead; he was prone to violent outbursts of emotion. Brown had to break the silence, he had relatively good news; news that took them to square two at least.

“Not quite. Autopsy report came back.” Coop’s eyes lit up a little, he sat straight and stared at Brown as he flipped through the medical file on his desk. “Turns….. Out…….” He dragged the lead, searching for the page

“Spit it out! Porky Pig!” Det. Coop insensitively quipped. Brown gave Coop a sharp look before he continued.

“It turns out Alicia Doe, 28 was indeed raped by her assailant.”

“What’s the Bad news?” Coop was skeptical.

“How did you know there was bad news?”

“I just know. Now spit out.”

“Well, we run the……. Samples”

“The SEMEN samples?” Coop smiled at how easy it was to get under Brown’s skin. His own personal doormat. He used him to vent and to reassure himself because history had shown Brown to never ever challenge him even when he should have. They were just a team like that.

“Yes. Those samples. And guess what??”

“Brownie!” A nickname Coop used to toy with Det. Brown, “I swear on my mother’s noose…..”

“OK! There are no matches for the sample. Which is weird because…..” Coop cut him off

“It would mean the assailant has never been arrested or even registered in this country. He’s never donated blood or even gone to the hospital for any sort of check-up. He’s a ghost?”

“He is a ghost!”

“Well, spank me and call me pretty, we just uncovered the tale of the serial killing ghost.” The middle-aged men burst into loud hearty laughter; even though they both knew they were no closer to finding Alicia’s murderer than they were when they found her dead in a stranger’s house with her wrists slit.

Three minutes of hearty laughter later, Coop went back to the Visitors’ Logs, chroming each page for something that would blow the case wide open. Even a little inkling pointing toward the killer would have been enough at this point. As he ran through the names in the Visitors’ Log, he couldn’t keep his mind from straying to the thought that he may be wrong. Every few years, a girl kills herself in a strange place, so what? How could that mean there was a serial killer? What if there was no ‘serial killer’ and these ladies just killed themselves as some people are often prone to do? Why did he have this feeling deep in his stomach every time he thought about it? Or talked about it? Why did it bother him so much when he had seen it himself? The arrival of a human being to their breaking point and their choices thereafter were nothing new to Coop. This is something he knew all too well. He was only 22 years old when he came home after a few months away and found his mother hanging from the rail of the staircase. She hadn’t been dead long, maybe an hour or two. He must have still been on the drive there. They had just spoken that morning. She had mentioned a break-up from one of the countless random men she’d seen after Coop was born but she didn’t seem bothered or even torn up about it. She knew he would find her, she did it anyway. She was aware of his character and inability to open up to anyone but her, she did it anyway. She knew he loved her more than anything, she did it anyway. Coop only shed tears while he cut her down. Seeing her body fall from the first floor to the ground with an enormous yet lifeless thud, then covering her with a white sheet, unable to fathom moving her any further, Coop never shed another tear after that. Not at her funeral, not when he spoke about it, not even when he thought about it. He just knew he had lost a large portion of himself when she died, he had cried for the lost parts of himself. He would never cry about it again. He would never be the same man again. He joined the Police Force soon after that and the rest was history. Till he met Jill. Jill! His mind screamed. Cooper gathered the remaining unexamined Visitors’ Logs and left suddenly without a word.

Whitney Houston was belting out notes perfectly in Cooper’s car. He drove out of the station to the apartment complex with one thing on his mind. “Jill can fix this. Jill can fix me.” He parked his car close to the one he bought her about a year before. He could tell it hadn’t been driven in a while, he could tell by the layer of dust he had distorted when he ran his finger across the car’s top.  However, It didn’t bother him; at least not as much as it should. When he bought it, he knew she wouldn’t drive it. It was just another gift he used to dissuade his guilt from forcing him into doing what he knew he had to do. Jill was a patient woman, more patient than he knew people to be. He couldn’t believe it at times. For five years, this woman stood by him, with her budding youth, no real title or recognition and even less in terms of respect. He was an old stubborn man, he knew it, he carried himself the way he did because of it. He had always expected her to leave him, walk off into the proverbial sunset rendering him just a messy part of her history. And she did, over and over again. She also came back over and over again too, holding no grudges, asking for no apologies.

The bond that held them was deeper than marriage he thought, it was pain. His pain which caused hers and her pain which caused his. Still, she brought herself back, she waited for him to get over himself even if it was for a second. It’s what she lived for; the few seconds when Coop opened up and revealed Denny to her. He didn’t bring her a gift this time; he knew that was not what she wanted. He brought her what she needed; Him unraveled and conflicted enough to open up. He smiled to himself. This could be it! This could be the moment that solidified their bond and erased their painful past. This was their metaphorical wedding day. Coop winced as he stared at her door. Another line of thought emerged. Did she want to get married? Would she really be as open to him when he came undone? Could he really give her what would satisfy her? She was older now, probably less hopeful, maybe less forgiving. Was this a bad idea? He did need her, but did she really need him? Coop’s mind screamed insecurities and possibilities at him. He knocked anyway.

The heavy door flung open seconds later. Jill stood there smiling, genuinely just happy to see him. He saw no grudges, he saw no resentment. All he saw was the sparkle; the one he had grown to call his sparkle. The sparkle that came to her eyes whenever she saw him. The sparkle that reassured him of her forgiving nature and her pure heart. His sparkle. Even though she was dressed down for a day indoors, her beauty still took his breath away. In old sweats, no makeup and that smile, he saw through the grime that life had accumulated on her face, the subtle wrinkles, and chapped lips. He saw the love that she had yet to give and the care she was yet to share. This woman was his woman and she understood him enough for him to never have to have him say it out loud. Looking at her face, he was overwhelmed. He suddenly had the urge to do what he didn’t believe in. It was only right.

“Look! I’m an ass……… a jerk. I’m sorry.” She did not say a word, she just hugged him then let him in.

“We shall not linger about in the past.” She said as she offered him a seat, “What’s up?”

“Nothing’s up. I just came to see you and apologize.” Coop lied

“You’re lying. “ She knew.

“I am.” Coop admitted, “It’s the case.”

“What about it?” Jill leaned in inquisitively.

“Well, I thought I’d cracked it. I really did and you know I’m never wrong when it comes to such stuff.” Coop hesitated then tried to change the subject by touching her face. She held his hand against her face before putting it back down, she knew what he was trying to do

“Then??”

“I was wrong.”

“The problem is that you were wrong for the first time in your career?” Second?

“No, that’s not it.”

“Then what is it, Coop? You can tell me. You know you can” He pulled her across the sofa towards himself so that her legs crossed over his thighs. He looked at her and hesitated. She smiled, reassuring him that his weaknesses did not matter to her. She was ready to listen even more so to help.

“I think I’ve been compromised, emotionally. It feels like I only went after this case cause of my mother and how she died.” He paused, looking straight in her eyes, “Like I didn’t want it to be a suicide so I convinced myself it wasn’t. “

“I get it.” He gave her a look that said you do? She nodded. “You didn’t want her to die that way, by her own hand. So you juxtapositioned that onto the girls. “Cooper burst out laughing

“I juxtapositioned it?? Where the hell do you get this stuff! I’m pretty sure that’s not the word you want. You mean…….”

“You know what I mean! My point is; give yourself some credit, Coop! You’re a smart guy and a darn good detective. You had a gut feeling and just because a lead didn’t pan out, doesn’t mean you are necessarily wrong. You know this! You’re just a little thrown off because of personal experience. It’s allowed for some, but not you. You are objective and neutral. I don’t think you should give up just yet.” He hung on her every word, wanting to believe it all. He felt each word touch a part of his broken heart and mend it.

“I don’t know. There’s a lot hanging on this. If I mess it up, I could lose my job and so could Mitch.” She took his face into her hands and looked deep into his eyes as if she was not speaking to him now but to his soul

“What if it was me, Coop? “  He was quiet. “It could be. That’s why I need you to catch that bastard.” He smiled pulling her chin gently towards him to kiss her. Under his breath, he whispered, “I’ve missed you. “

When Jill woke up, Cooper had already made coffee. He was sitting at the kitchen table going through the Visitors’ Logs.

“Morning Sugar……..Ray Leonard. You did some punching in your sleep. Unfortunately, I was the bag.” Coop joked while he got up to kiss her good morning. Jill giggled at herself

“Is that why you’re up so early?”

“No. That case was stuck in my mind. Been up since 3 am. But I think I found something. I also have to leave.” He hastily kissed her goodbye before walking out and shutting the door heavily. Jill’s heart sank with the bang.

Coop took a minute to appreciate his reconciliation with Jill before he sped off to the station. Brown arrived just in time to see Coop arrive and notice he hadn’t changed his clothes since he abruptly left the station the day before. Coop’s face yelled determination and focus. Brown decided against bringing up the walk of shame.

“I found something, Brown” Coop said while they walked into the station.

“Well?? Tell me what it is!” Coop was quiet. He led Brown to one of the interrogation rooms. “Are you going to tell me? Am I the new suspect? Why are we here, Coop?” Coop still did not speak. He peeped around, made sure no one was around then closed the door. He set down the visitors’ logs he had been carrying around.

“It’s big, Brown.”

“How big?”

“Bigger than our pay grade. Bigger than the Homicide Division. Bigger than the Chief”

“That big? Show me!”

“Are you sure? Because when you see this, you can’t unsee it. “

“Yes, Coop! Spit. It. Out.”

“Ok look here.” Coop opened up the logs. “Louis Manning almost always gets one visitor. Only one. The whole time he’s been in the nursing home. This man!” Coop pointed it out on the page. “See his name?”

“Leonard?” Brown answered naively.

“No his last name! Leonard Harris. That’s the mayor’s son. “

“The mayor doesn’t have a son and that last name is pretty common.”

“No. During his first election, he lost, there was a story that broke of his estranged son who had lived with his mother and her husband. They never realized his picture but they did say his name. It was Leonard Harris!! Then look here!” Coop turned the pages so fast, Brown would have sworn they’d tear. “The only other visitor the mayor himself! And he came with his son. Here, Charles and Leonard Harris! ”

“Ok, so they visited him. So what?”

“I know. So, I called the Rookie and had him look into a few things. Like who funded Louis Manning’s years in exile? It was Charles Harris. Who is Leonard’s mother? Martha Manning. Leonard is the lost Manning half -brother! And finally, guess when he changed his name! Oh, you got it! After Estelle Died. How’s that for ‘so what’ Brown?”

Brown stood completely astonished for a few seconds before he belted out gloriously, “We just blew this case wide open!”

“I blew the case wide open. You? Helped.” Coop said as he left the room.

“Manning Murderer”

Det. Brown had been staring into the Chief’s office the whole time, trying to make out how the chief was reacting to Cooper’s actions. He didn’t want him fired or anything, just disciplined a bit. That’s why he called the officers. Brown assumed his life would be safer if Det. Cooper just calmed the fuck down sometimes, checked the boxes and filled his paperwork like the rest of the detectives. Like Brown had done for years, the bare minimum required of a homicide detective. But Brown knew Coop; for a long time enough now, the man had to go that extra reckless mile. He had to kick down the doors and shoot in the air when he arrived and burn it down while he walked away. He came with a certain flair; most days that was the best thing about him, not every day, however; certainly not on the day he threatened to shoot a civilian.  Brown knew he wasn’t scared of the man and his recklessness, just a little intimidated. Cooper was completely detached, an island fully sufficient relying on its own Ecosystem. A bomb could drop around him and he would still act the same. He’d probably start a race of hardened species incapable of weak emotion but they’d probably be miserable with no murders to solve. Brown thought jokingly. The shouting from the Chief’s office stopped. The two men in the Chief’s office now spoke confidentially, keenly. Brown could instantly tell that Coop had somehow managed to rope the Chief in. A skill unique to only Coop and maybe the Chief’s wife. Brown doubted the magnitude of the latter.

Seconds later, Coop was walking towards Brown. He had that look on his face. Brown knew it well. The look of curiosity and thirst for justice was intense. There was something that didn’t sit right with Cooper about this case, about Manning and Coop was willing to go to the ends of the Earth to find it.

“Hey! Rat!” Coop yelled looking straight at Brown, walking intently towards him. Brown was rattled, not sure if he should reply on account of his obvious ‘betrayal’ to his partner when he called the police on him. He resolved to remorse, only slightly genuine.

“Now Coop listen. You were off your loose hinges! You had a gun in her face!” Brown sounded frantic, getting up from his seat to ‘defend himself’.

Cooper began to shout, “This guy thinks it would be amusing if I was impotent.” The station fell silent in anticipation. Brown walked closer to Coop now realizing his punishment for the ‘betrayal’ would be public humiliation. He was almost whispering,

“I can make it up to you, Coop.”

Coop smiled, “Maybe he’s just mad my girl’s prettier than his. Huh? Huh?” He nudged Brown playfully, while the officers in the station burst out in roaring laughter. The ‘punishment’ was over. Coop got serious, wiping the smile off his face like it was never there.

“Tell me you talked to Fischer before she left.”

“Of course I did. She wasn’t very forthcoming about that time.”

“What’d she say then?”

“She said if any one killed Estelle, it was their father. Louis Manning, now about 70. Lives in one of those greasy old people homes. You know, the cheap ones….” Coop nodded, urging Brown on. Brown was the compassionate one. Civilians saw him as the equivalent of a cuddly crime fighting bear. He could get through to anyone, especially children. Coop, on the other hand, was the hard guy. The guy who beat it out of a suspect and knew when you were lying. They made a pretty good crime-fighting team, Soft yet Hard.

“Why did she think that? How bad was he?”

“Well, for one he molested them, all three.”

“Three??”

“Half-brother, youngest. Tell you about him later. So yeah, he touched them, abused them, beat them and a lot of other things that she didn’t need to delve into. She said he ‘loved’ her most. Even slept in her bed almost every night until she and her sister moved out. Even then, he’d show up at their house drunk and well….. Have his way. That’s not even the best part.”

“What is?” Coop played along because he could see Brown’s eyes light up. He could tell Brown was not a believer in the Manning Suicide either.

“Louis, the father. Left town for sixteen years just after they discovered Manning. Didn’t even attend the funeral. Now police ruled it a suicide so no one ever came looking for him but he stayed until the statute of limitations had run out. That’s if he raped her. And she was never given a proper autopsy and no rape test.”

“So our killer may be a rapist. Let’s get the lab to run a full autopsy on Alicia Doe, rape test included. No fucking up this time.” Brown pulled his little brown notebook from his breast pocket and began jotting.

“I’ll get that done. We going to see Manning the Murderer?” Brown chuckled at his own joke. Cooper didn’t laugh with him though, he stared into space thinking.

“No Brown. I have a feeling about this. Not a good one. Let me go see him, shake the trees before we brand him.”

“Alright, Coop. But it’s right there in front of you. ‘Man abuses and murders his daughter and four other women.’” Brown said resigning to the fact that the case could not go on until Coop was sure.

****

…Young girls they do get weary, wearing that old shaggy dress, yea……… Coop anxiously listened to the dial tones from his phone as the radio played calmly in the background. He loved Otis Redding, so did…..

“Yes?!” The voice on the other end was smooth, sweet and composed. It made Coop think of ice-cream, creamy, cold, relaxing.

“Jill? Hello.” He managed to get that out sounding a little like himself. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs how sorry he was or how he felt his heart sink far past his stomach when he heard her voice for the first time in a long time, but he didn’t. He just said hello.

“Denny? Is that you? Oh, thank God! I thought you were dead, shot in the line of duty or something. I buy the paper every day to be sure you aren’t. How are you?” Jill’s voice remained calm, almost excited even. There was no shred of anger or remorse just concern. Pure wholesome concern, the kind Coop needed a whole bowl of. He trembled at the thought that she might have just forgiven him, just like that. He didn’t deserve it. He never did.

“I’ve been… I’ve been…. I’ve been good, Jill. I just wanted to hear your voice. How are you?” He struggled to sound like himself, strong and unweakened by her. Because he was, weakened, even miles away the sound of her voice sufficed to tear his hardened shell down.

“You didn’t call, D”

“What?” He heard her but he couldn’t muster the courage and maturity he needed for this conversation.

“I said bye forever and you didn’t call. I really thought you would. I thought I’d break Coop, get Denny and ride off into the sunset. But you didn’t call.

“Jill…. Wait….” She cut him off

“You know I knew you wouldn’t. You couldn’t. Your mind wouldn’t let your heart be.” Cooper was confused, speechless to say the least, “It’s my fault.”

“What? Jill, No!” She cut him off again.

“I know what you’re going to say, Denny. I’m a good girl, I deserve better. But I fell for you, that’s my fault. God knows you kept telling me not to. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left. You need me more than I need some of these things from you. “

“I’m working this new case.” He deflected the emotional

“Oh jolly! What’s it about?”

“Young girl, little younger than you was found with her wrists slit for her. Everyone wants a suicide but when I see murder baby….”

“It’s murder, baby.” They laughed. The tension had passed, they were Oh Kay! “But seriously D. isn’t it hard?”

“Nope. I mean I already roped it the Chief and……”

“Not that, baby!! Cause of your mum! She…..” Cooper froze, he was five minutes from the retirement home. He knew he had time to talk about this but….

“Hey Jill, Got to catch a bad guy. I’ll call you later.” He hung up. He pulled into the retirement home parking lot.

He sat at the reception for fifteen minutes before Mr. Manning wheeled himself into the room. It gave him too much time to think. He knew that Jill still wanted an apology, even though she acted like she didn’t. He also knew he was not in the position to give one, not if he wanted to keep seeing her. He also knew that it was at least a little unfair to keep her like that; waiting for crumbs of his affection. Why did she do this to herself! It was all very complicated, to say the least. He didn’t want to be distracted so he couldn’t let Jill and her his feelings distract him. He snapped back to reality as Mr. Manning ‘parked’ in front of him.

“Mr. Manning? I’m Detective Cooper. I’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Sure, Officer.”  It’s Detective, scumbag. “Let’s talk in the garden.” Walking behind this foul human being, Coop winced. A man like this, a demon, evil everywhere worst of all deep in his soul. Evil enough to molest his children. His own kids! The devil himself!

“This is a good spot. So what’s up, Cap’? “

“It’s Detective, Sir. I’d like to talk to you about your daughter.” Mr. Manning’s wrinkled face lit up and his lips curved as far as they could.

“Lynette? I haven’t seen her in ages. What’d she say? How’s she doing?” Doing better far away from you scumbag!

“No, Mr. Manning. Estelle.” Louis’ face cringed and his smile completely disintegrated. “Her body was found, wrists slit, in her apartment……”

“Twenty years ago!” Louis cut him off. Coop could see the man was getting irritable so he was going to keep poking.

Aha! Now we’re talking. “Tell me about her.”

“Why? Can’t you get the old case file? It’s been twenty years, Officer and she killed herself. You said it yourself.”

“I didn’t say she killed herself. I said her wrists were slit.” Coop sat on the bench near him. “We found a girl like we found Estelle. Then another and another. It is now our belief that Estelle was murdered. And no doubt by someone close to her, cause she was the first victim. “

“And you think I did it?? I did nothing but love that girl. It hurt me deeply that she passed away like that.”

“Hmm…. Nothing but love, eh?” Coop paused, staring into the man’s eyes, hoping to catch a glimpse of his blackened soul. “Mr. Manning, we know you molested your daughter and the other daughter too, oh and we also know your molested your step son. “

“Suicides are very hard, especially for families.” Especially when you stage them too. The man stared at his fingers, a remorseful look on his face. Coop was not buying it. “I do NOT appreciate you dredging up old pain after twenty years, Officer.” Coop’s patience was waning. Here’s this brutal killer, scratch that, serial killer; one who would rather the victim’s families believe that their loved one killed themselves. This guy was as foul and evil as they come. Yet here he sat whining about how sad he was twenty years ago or how sad he still is about it. He belonged in the abyss of the worst prison this country has and Coop would be responsible for putting him there, locking the door and throwing away the key.

“For the last time, it’s De-Tec-Tive! And something else Mr Grieving Father, I don’t believe you for a second. I can smell crocodile’s tears miles away, Manning. You killed that girl! And now you don’t want to talk about it? Ah-ah Murderer Manning! You’ll talk, you’ll sing like a bird by the time I’m done!” Coop was raising his voice now, bearing over Louis Manning like an eagle going in for the kill. “Why did you leave only a day after her death? Only to return sixteen years later?” Manning dropped his head, “Your other kids. They needed you and you ‘loved’ them. So why the 16 year vacation, huh? Statute of Limitations? ” Coop gripped his weapon ready to subdue the suspect as soon as he confessed. But he didn’t confess, he began to weep instead and continued to weep for several minutes. Coop stared at him, waiting for him to peep the wrong way; then he’d be sure the man was faking. A few more tears in, he couldn’t take it. The devil was pleading mercy in front of him, and he wasn’t buying it.

“Come on! We’ll take a ride to the station.”

“What??” Manning choked on his tears, utterly confused about what the Detective was talking about.

“Answer my questions then. Or we have to do this at the station in cuffs and your favourite colour jumpsuit. They don’t clean anything in that holding cell, least of all….”

“Ok ok ok!” Manning caved, Coop smiled. “I left because I thought that I was the reason she…..” He sniffed loudly. The man was broken. He seemed to have taken a lot of time rebuilding himself too. Coop didn’t like how this sat. This feeble old man, can’t leave his retirement home, needs a full time nurse and worse still he’s in a wheel chair. It would take him a whole lot of energy and an accomplice to pull this off. Cooper began to walk away. He could still hear the man’s frantic sobs. He made his way to the reception. A young attractive lady sat there reading a backless novel with her spectacles worn low. She ignored him at first. He began tapping his fingernails against the reception desk. She looked up, uninterested.

“Detective Cooper,” he flashed his badge. “Can I see all your visitor logs for the last four years?”

Looking back into her book, “No. Those are confidential, Sir.”

“De-Tec-Tive! To you! I can always come back with a warrant and a SWAT team. Bet you’d all enjoy seeing all these old people having a collective heart attack.”

She rolled her eyes before reaching for a handful of hardcover books under her desk. Cooper nodded in appreciation before he took them with him to his car. “Asshole.” She murmured under her breathe as he shut the door behind him.

Chief Mitchell’s Office – Det. Cooper Series

Det. Cooper sat nervously outside the Chief’s office. He could hear the Chief ripping one of the officers a new one, questioning his intelligence and threatening to strip him of his badge. He was anxious. He even got rid of a hang nail or two while he waited to see Chief of Police Mitchell. He and Mitchell were good friends and even better as partners in the force. So if Mitchell told him to pull the plug on the Manning rehash case, then he had to pull the plug. What of that insubordination with Manning’s sister? It sure didn’t help his chances. He could have taken the beating (to him it would have been more like pecking), he actually deserved it but somehow he felt he had to defend himself. With a gun in her face, Coop? There’s easier ways to lose your job. Cooper figured, two week suspension and a few more weeks of petty cases would do the trick but he couldn’t be completely sure if that would cut it for the chief. He feared that the Chief would only settle for his badge and gun. Mitchell wouldn’t fire me, would he? Well he can if he wants to; or if someone at the top wants him too. But isn’t he the top? Cooper wasn’t sure. His demons played tug of war with his future delving deeper into the unknown. Speaking of the top, maybe I ask him about who pulled the plug on Manning’s homicide case back then. Maybe, he starts a task force because he sees big things happening behind the scenes. Gets me to head up the task force. We catch a serial killer or two; maybe even catch one in the act, save the poor victim in real time. The media will eat it up. Front pages will scream it. Then two, three years down the line, they’re calling me Chief Cooper, Chief of Police! Cooper had just begun to crack a smile when Chief Mitchell flung open his door and let the officer out.

“Make sure you keep me updated. And fix it before it becomes another bigger goddamn mess” The chief said patting the nodding officer’s shoulder as he walked away. He then looked down at where Cooper sat. He didn’t smile; he just stared with his bloodshot sunken eyes. He claimed they always looked that way but Cooper knew better. They only looked like that when he was pissed off; really pissed off. Chief Mitchell was breathing heavily, so heavily that Cooper in his seat felt the drafts of warm air coming  from his mammoth nostrils. Cooper could see them widen then shrink back to their original size then widen again. Mitchell’s giant shadow cast over Cooper’s sitting self, making him feel like a child in the presence of an adult preparing to discipline him. Chief Mitchell intimidated Cooper immensely, mostly because he knew that the chief would not be pleased with his behaviour. However Cooper was not one to act timid; His pride did not allow it. He had learnt from his early police days that faking it may just be the only way to make it in the force.  He gathered his wits, deciding to tap into his old partner relationship with Mitchell. If it still counted for something, that is.

“Bernie my man!” Cooper played off the trouble he was in and the way he felt sitting timid in front of the Chief

“Do I look like a huge purple fucking dinosaur? Get in here, Coop!”

“It’s spelt different, Mitchell.” Coop remarked as he followed the chief into his office.

“I don’t care if it dresses different too. Don’t call me that! I’ve been telling you that for years. Sit yourself down.” Cooper was suddenly reminded of the good old days. Mitchell had to have been the first and best partner Coop ever had. Their relationship was deep and riddled with history. They had taken a few bullets for each other yet their relationship remained light characterized by jokes, gags and pranks. They were like two inseparable school boys. Part of why Cooper was so respected in the force was his relationship with Mitchell. When you saw Coop you saw Mitch; that’s just how it was.

“Ok, Mitch. I know you’re probably mad about Lynnette Fischer.”

“And?” Mitchell cut him off patronizingly, glaring him menacingly waiting for him to slip up.

“And well, she was going for Coop’s Chest of Treasure. She was basically begging me to shoot her in the ovaries.” Coop cracked a smile; acknowledging the cunning reference to his ‘below the belt’region.

“Really? Cooper! You were going to shoot a civilian for grief hysteria? Grief hysteria that you gave her! You go over to this woman’s HOUSE! To upset her with all that talk about her sister being murdered twenty years ago then you point a gun in her face?” Mitchell paused, Coop wasn’t smiling anymore “THAT WAS OVER THE LINE!”

“I know. I’m sorry” Coop dropped his head slightly, feigning regret and remorse.

“You’re sorry? Why I should lock you up for police brutality! I make you a detective and this is how you repay me? Why are you up Manning’s ass anyway? That case is as dead as Manning and you know it!”

“Well, someone killed it. I didn’t. And if I recall correctly, neither did you. Anyway, we found another DB; similar circumstances. I made the connection. You know that I always had my doubts about Estelle.”

“Twenty years, Coop? You’re dredging up old wounds all over when you should have gotten over this nineteen years ago. This city does not pay you to clear your doubts and cleanse your fucking soul, it pays you to put murderers behind bars. Now unless you’re going to arrest Estelle Manning for killing Estelle Manning twenty years ago, I suggest you let it go.” Cooper stood now to look Chief Mitchell in the eyes

“That was not a suicide, Chief. I know it. I smelt something fishy with these dead girls turning up in other people’s houses. Supposed to have killed themselves? But no weapons on site? Mitchell, you see it, right?”  Mitchell’s eyes narrowed as he began to see Cooper’s point.

“Girls? Tell about these cases.”

“Can I get the rookie to do that? I’m trying to catch Hysterical Lynette before she leaves the station.”

“I already let her go. I wasn’t going to arrest for having a cop’s gun in her face. In fact she was so worked up, I promised her I’d arrest you for insubordination.” They both cracked up laughing in unison. Mitchell had a lot of power but none that he planned on using to arrest Cooper. The fact that he had to use it to calm Lynette down made it funny. Coop continued as if filling his partner in on the details of their new case.

“Ok so; A few days ago, we found Alicia; slit wrists in the Morgans’ master bedroom. They were on a two week vacation before they found her; she had been dead a while. Looks 30, but she was holding a card for her twenty-eighth birthday, so we assumed she was killed at 27, before it happened. No murder weapon found.” Mitchell began to lean into the case groaning in agreement, Cooper urged on.

“Then two years ago, Mary Jenkins, twenty-seven. She slit the blood vessels in her toes. I saw the crime scene photos; it was brutal! Not her place, not a weapon in sight.” Mitchell began to pace and nod. Cooper knew that was a sign that he too was not so sure about all these ‘suicides’

“Four years ago, Clare Blanks, twenty-seven. Slit her wrists, left her at a stranger’s house. She was found, the murder weapon wasn’t. See! Just like Manning! Except Estelle was the only one we found at her place.” Mitchell began to chip into the investigations, getting suckered into working with Coop again, just like old times.

“But Estelle died 20 years ago. The next girl comes sixteen years later? Could we have a copycat or an apprentice coming out of the cracks?”

“I have a theory, Chief. There may be more girls, we just never found them; maybe because he masked his murders with suicide scenes. He was shy then. Wanted to make a statement but didn’t want everyone to know he was the one giving it.”

“So what’s changed?” Cooper’s eyes lit up

“He’s gotten over his stage fright, so to speak. He’s bolder with every kill. He feels more justified all of a sudden. He wants us to hear him, see him, feel him giving the statement. That’s why he left the card at that last one. He wants us to see the pattern.” Mitchell smiled, realizing that even though Coop had just dropped the ball he had a damn good reason just like he was taught. The smile faded fast as he morphed from Coop’s partner to chief again.

“Ok! You’ve got something. I’ll give you a week to run with it then I pull the plug and put you back on parking duty.”

“Thanks Chief!” Cooper turned to leave

“Oh and Coop! How is that daughter of yours getting on? ”

“Yeah, Chief. She’s doing fine. She just bagged a summer internship in Spain. She’s out there right now building dams or houses or something. Me and her mum are very proud”

“And that hot piece that you love so much but won’t commit to?” Coop smiled at the chief. He was always teasing him about his love life, since they met.

“Oh, Jill?” He laughed a little. “Hotter than Jalapeño poppers on a summer’s day.”

Coop walked away realising that he hadn’t spoken to Jill, his ‘special friend’ since she’d called him cold and unfeeling a few months ago. He had resolved to apologize at a later date but his ego hadn’t changed at all since then so he hadn’t apologized after all. He figured as she always did when they fought, she would return, content with what he gave her knowing he was either unable or unwilling to give her more.  But not this time. Cooper was as unromantic as he was a wet blanket. With Jill however, he felt a lot more strongly than he had any woman even the mother of his children; even his own mother! She challenged him while accommodating his comfort. She laughed at his jokes and didn’t cower when Cooper’s temper hit the roof. She understood him more than any other person living, yet there were parts of him that still puzzled her; like not wanting to get married or have children, and caring more about his murder victims than his family. She bought Cooper’s daughter birthday and Christmas gifts every year and signed them “Love, dad”. She visited his mother regularly. She was the human representation of the thin string that held up Cooper’s love life. Since she left three months ago, Cooper’s daughter had moved to Spain to get away from him and her mother while Cooper’s mother called frantically for few months before giving up as her calls always went unanswered. He hadn’t noticed that either. He needed to see Jill but first…

“Chief! Wait!” Cooper looked back and called out to the Chief who was welcoming another officer for a verbal thrashing, “You didn’t say who killed the Manning case.” Mitchell shifted uncomfortably then looked at the officer.

“Just go in and wait for me.” The officer obliged; then the chief walked to Cooper and whispered,

“It came from the top, Coop. But I’ll fix it.” He then walked back to his office, while Cooper stood there puzzled.

Breaking: The Other Woman’s Curse

Abby could feel herself sweating, profusely at that. She wasn’t sure if it was the weather; it was hotter today than it had been for months, or the stuffy coffee shop he had picked to meet her. She was overly nervous. She hadn’t seen Ben since the small altercation at her apartment that she had to admit had ended in her favour. He had assured her that his mind was still on one track; leaving his wife. So when he asked to meet her, she could only assume he had done so to finally make good on his promise. It had taken him longer than she’d expected but she wouldn’t dwell on that now; she had waited to pick up where they had left off. Finally, love, their love, would conquer all; his wife, his children, everything would fade away at the sheer sight of their love. Finally, she could show off the perfect man she had earned because Ben would be hers. Finally, she could start a family of her own. Excitement began to boil over inside her, almost overflowing in shrieks of joy and glee. She could hardly calm herself down.

She swung round in her seat to search for someone to take her order. Suddenly, Abby became deeply aware of everything and everyone around her. It had dawned on her that this coffee shop didn’t fit Ben’s idea of romantic. Why did he ask to meet her here? Everything seemed out of place for her grand expectations of this encounter. Despite everything, she ordered coffee and began to calm down. Right in front of her, was a table with a group of women a little older than she was. They gossiped so loudly that Abby took it for entertainment while she drank her coffee. The troubling toddler tales and stubborn husband gags amused her so much that she felt herself being drawn into their conversation, slowly becoming a silent part of these women’s bonding moment. She even found herself giggling along with them. She saw a future her in these women; Her with Ben, her future social circle. She imagined they would be her social cronies when she married into Ben’s status. Then suddenly, as if in a ceremonial remorse, the lady at the head of the table leaned forward on her elbows. All the other ladies mimicked, etching forward on their seats. Even Abby leaned in to listen. In a whisper loud enough for all to hear, she broke ‘the news’

“I have news, Ladies. Ben, Jane’s husband! He has ANOTHER mistress!” The ladies at the table all sighed in surprise. Abby, seated at the table them, panicked, Could they be talking about me? Oh lord, they’re talking about me.

“Mistress number six?” Another lady exclaimed.

Ben has had five other mistresses?

“I can’t wait to see which infant girl he’s hoodwinked into helping him break his vows now”

Hoodwinked? I wasn’t hoodwinked, was I?

“Poor Jane. Jared’s only three and Lord knows she can’t do it on her own.”

He told me his wife was a successful arrogant woman who never gave him any attention or ‘love’. 

“And to think, all the nice things he said up there when they were renewing those vows.”

How nice could these words possibly be? Seeing as Ben loves me so much, he couldn’t possibly love another more, could he? Does he? 

“Do you remember that ring he got her? Shame now it means nothing”

Was he going to get her another ring? That means he didn’t leave her

“Do you think she’ll leave this time?”

SHE?! But Ben’s leaving her. Isn’t he? Has he not left her yet?

“Why doesn’t he leave?” Another lady said as if reading Abby’s mind.

“He never does. He just hurts her and hurts her and hurts her some more then comes back with the shiniest thing he can find to distract her.”

But, No? He told me! He told me! He told me! He’s leaving her!

“And to think, all this for a bimbo, probably with nothing between her ears and the unquenchable urge to spread her legs.” Abby’s face began turning red.

“You know, ladies, I just don’t get those kinds of women.”They all nodded in unison.”Why would you want leftovers, some other lady’s remains when you could get your own man, fresh off the rack, groom him and walk into the sunset with your self-made king?” The ladies all burst into laughter as she gestured violently. “As opposed to laying down for a man looking for a side attraction; already groomed, already made by another woman’s work while he struggles to keep you a secret. But I guess that’s what the cheap ones do. The ones who can’t build a good man or find a good man on their own. They just steal yours.”

Abby was balancing tears on the edges of her eye sockets now. The feelings that had since disappeared when Ben had assured her that he would leave his wife, all came sprinting back. She suddenly felt nauseated. These women barely knew her, let alone their love. How could they judge her this way? How could they judge their love? But while they went on about their loathing of mistresses and their own personal tales of them, Abby began to see herself in their cruel words. She began to see how evil their love, which she was now considering might as well be lust, had turned out to be. She was a home wrecker, one who could be likened only to the arsonist who torches a man and his family’s home right before their eyes.

She got up suddenly unable to listen to the banter and gossip anymore. Without looking at anything or anyone else, she walked to her car. She dropped her head on the wheel and began to cry. Here she was, ready to meet Ben and hear him give her all she wanted when suddenly, as if by twist of fate she is reminded of the plight of his soon to be excommunicated wife. She hadn’t bothered herself thinking about Jane since her botched confession with the Father. Instead she had decided to live in a bubble of Ben’s affection. In a bubble where Jane, Jared and all of Ben’s other children did not exist; and she met Ben at party or at the store; and they had since fallen deep in love and encountered no obstacles to their joint happiness. But the Gossip Guild had just popped her Ben Bubble and all the emotional sewage that had been caused by their affair came rushing in, tainting her and their ‘love’. It was impossible for her to let Ben just walk away now, especially if it was for her. How could she? Clearly as the ladies said, Jane could not fend for herself and Jared if Ben were to suddenly check out. But it had begun to occur to her, maybe he wasn’t leaving her at all and he had only said so to keep the affair going for a little longer. Maybe, like the five, obviously naïve, women before her, he had used her and now as his chicken came home to roast, he would discard her and spend a small fortune trying to get his wife to forgive him. The more she thought it through, the more she saw Ben for who he was and their love for what it was, an affair.

With this realization, she raised her head to drive away. She caught a glimpse of Ben walking into the coffee shop looking for her. Her heart began to race instantly. She was now short of breath, panting and sweating; panting and sweating for him. Despite the emotional roller-coaster she had just gone on, Abby still felt herself mindlessly drawn to Ben. She fought the urge to run into his arms furiously and started her car. As she drove away, she couldn’t fight the fact that she still wanted to be with Ben, still wanted him to abandon his wife and children for her; no matter what it did to her character, reputation or karma. If she was confronted by him again, she wouldn’t be able to resist.

***

Jane was engrossed in one of her old photo albums of Jared’s pictures when a loud crude knock at the door startled her. She had been packing up the house when she wandered off onto Memory Lane. She shuffled to the door, trying to avoid boxes and furniture everywhere. When she opened the door, there stood an attractive young lady, well dressed with bloodshot eyes and runny make up from crying, stomping her leg impatiently.

“Jane?” Abby exclaimed so suddenly, almost scaring Jane.

“Yes?” Jane answered inquisitively.

“I’m Abby. You don’t know me…”

“No, I don’t” Jane had to admit that had come off rude

“But… I’ve been sleeping with your husband, for a few months now and….” Abby paused, gauging Jane’s reaction. Her face remained expressionless, “And I apologize.”

“Why?” Jane said cold-hearted, shoving down her primal urge to bash her face in and pull out locks of her hair one by one.

“Why did I sleep with him?” Abby asked embarrassed

“No! I know why you did that. You’re young, naïve and most importantly stupid. You’re just his type. You slept with him because he approached you and that’s what young, naïve and most importantly stupid girls do when a successful man approaches them.” Jane was careful not to let her bitterness show, Abby’s mouth fell open. “I mean, why are you apologizing?”

“Because I feel horrible. Because you did nothing wrong to me and I’m here ruining your family, your life. Because I was selfish to want him all to myself when you had him first. That’s why I’m apologizing.” Jane was a little shocked. She had expected Ben’s new mistress to claim her man more aggressively, not apologize. She had been on the other end of Ben’s cheating for a long time and yet this was the most sincere apology she has ever heard in its regard. This woman had looked at both sides of the affair, unlike most mistresses, and put herself in Jane’s shoes. She had gone the extra mile to consider the pain Jane had gone through with a chronically unfaithful man and the dilemma she faced of deciding whether the pain was enough for her to tear down the family they had built together and start anew. While deep in this thought, Abby startled her screaming out as if she had a sudden bout of verbal diarrhoea,

“I think he wants to marry me.”

“What?” Jane retorted.

“I think he wants to marry me. You’re packing and I was to meet him right this moment but I was too nervous. So that means he really wants to marry me” Jane’s eyes narrowed. She saw through Abby now. Naïve little critter, She wanted him for herself, like all mistresses would. She imagined this mess could all be fixed if she just came up with a way to keep Jane, the wife out of their lives; and Jared too. This girl standing in front of her, did not know what it meant to be married to Ben. She imagined it would be sunflowers, daisies and fresh almond milk every day. She was not completely malicious, just naïve. Craving the things that all girls her age longed for. Craving the things even Jane longed for 12 years ago. And with Ben being so close to her reach and her only obstacle being the jaded bitter ‘soon-to-be ex-wife’ and his child, Abby would have done anything for her happily ever after; even if it meant serving up a well-dramatized apology she didn’t mean or care for. Jane smiled and let Abby in,

“Let’s talk in here, shall we?” Abby was thrown off a bit, she expected a beating, not an invitation. But she owed her ‘co-wife’ that much, a conversation about Ben.

Jane had been the sorrowful heartbroken wife and she had been the hysterical delusional wife too when it came to Ben’s indiscretions. States of mind that had never bred any significant change in Ben or his behavior. Now, she had resolved to be the sober wife, the wise one who bites her tongue until need be. She hadn’t discussed it all with Ben; Abby, the affair, her resolutions, none of them. She figured if she gave him the chance, he’d lie his way into her heart one last time and as always she’d be humiliated as soon as the next affair broke. This time, Jane would go for an Irish goodbye. She would not need to scold him for retribution, her absence and Jared’s too would be his abyss, Abby would be the devil and Jane, she would be in heaven with her baby boy. Abby sat at the dining table, Jane began to brew a hot cup of tea.

“So, you’re getting married!” Jane exclaimed. “I would congratulate you but I see no jubilation in your future because your future is my present.”

“He’s not going to cheat on me. I just know.”  Abby was confident

“Why not?” Abby was quiet, “What makes you the woman he is faithful for, Abby? Come on, tell me!” Abby still did not speak. Jane poured the tea and served Abby a cup, all while letting her maul over the idea. She then sat across from Abby, took her hand and said softly,

“I tell you this because I see that look in your eyes when you talk about him. It’s like you know you’ll win the lottery soon and now you’re just holding your ticket as tight as you can, hoping you don’t lose it. The problem though, is that it has never occurred to you that maybe you don’t have the winning numbers.” Jane paused, took a sip of her tea, letting go of Abby’s hand, “Ben is that lottery ticket. At the beginning, it feels promising like you’re just about to win the lottery but slowly you begin to realize he doesn’t have the winning number, he just appears to. Do you understand me, Abby?” Abby remained quiet. She felt a glow of anger come up from her stomach, she’s trying to sabotage us.

“I know you’re probably trying to convince yourself that I’m sabotaging you and Ben but I’m not. I’ve had Ben. I know what he’s about. He doesn’t look as shiny to me as he does to you. I guess that’s what happens when you stick in it for 12 years. It shines less and less until it doesn’t anymore. Underneath you can finally see the disgusting filth that is rooted at the core, in his very being. But, I don’t need to tell you that, you’ll get to find out soon enough. I shouldn’t spoil it for you.” Abby’s eyes were filled with tears now, realizing that Jane was right and her life now would be Abby’s in a couple of months, or years.

Suddenly, Jane’s door flung open and Ben’s voice bellowed over the ladies.  “Jaaane! Why are all these boxes out?” He said as he walked into the kitchen where the ladies were enjoying their tea. Ben stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Abby and Jane getting chatty over tea.

“Oh! That’s because Abby’s moving in. Thought I’d give her a tour.” Jane said sarcastically, more amused with the situation than she should have been

“What are you doing here?” Ben asked Abby, ignoring his wife’s obvious enjoyment of the predicament. She turned to look at him, making sure he saw her eyes were sore from crying.

“Actually Jane,” Abby turned to Jane now, “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I like your ‘roommate’ that much anymore.” She gathered herself, shook Jane’s hand with a genuine smile of gratitude and left. She did not look back at Ben. His eyes followed her out of the room, not wanting to set his wife off by actually chasing after his mistress.

“You can follow her if you like.” Ben looked confused. “I’m packing because I’m leaving Ben. If you want to beg and whine, I suggest you follow her. I’ve heard the repentance speech before” Like a dog released by his master’s whistle, Ben ran out the door and did not look back either; hoping to catch Abby and try one more sweet lie. Jane giggled hysterically as she watched him sprint after the girl who didn’t want him anyway. And in that moment, the emotional burden she had been carrying lifted marvelously as she realized that she had indeed already broken the other woman’s curse.

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Photo Credits: Maureen ‘Moe’ Ndereba of DIYbyMoe

Hon. Hajji’s Monday Meeting

The gentle Monday morning sun had begun peeping through the small old-fashioned windows in the hallway leading to Hon. Hajji’s office. Everyone on the queue began shifting slowly to the magnificently lit side of the hall way to warm themselves of the chilly morning. It was 9 am and scattered murmurs and muttered coughs could be heard springing up all over in the queue. Hon. Hajji’s hallway always looked like this on Monday morning and throughout the rest of the day. The narrow hallway was littered by a snake of people stretching down from one end of the building to the other. Monday was the day he dedicated to his constituents and their petty issues. Nothing was too small for the Monday meetings at the Mheshimiwa’s office. Everyone who needed Mheshimiwa’s attention had to come on Monday morning or wait another week to vent appropriately. Not everyone got a chance to see him, so the queue would begin forming at the crack of dawn as no one wanted to miss their opportunity to speak to the Mheshimiwa, to have him change their lives. Mothers held their babies close to their breasts to feed them, while the men held their chins looking around impatiently. A few street children lingered trying not to set the others off with their foul smell while pregnant teenagers sat quietly though uncomfortably on the cold cemented hallway; some staring at their protruded bellies sadly. But none left that queue.

Everyone in that queue wore a glum look on their faces. It wasn’t entirely discern-able if this was because of the stuffy smelly hallway that most had been standing in since dawn or because no one ever came to see the Mheshimiwa without having a monumental problem that they believed only his extensive wealth and all-mighty influence could solve. His askaris would arrive just before dawn to make sure the queue was straight and that the ‘lowly civilians did not erupt in a frenzy of violence and disorder’; Mheshimiwa’s words exactly. They also came in handy as many people often fainted in the queue. They always said Mheshimiwa’s office was the best place to fall ill as he would order his askaris to rush you to the public hospital and Mheshimiwa would clear all your bills too. Heaven for the ailing peasant!

That particular Monday morning, Hon. Hajji strolled into his office building at 12:15 pm exactly that afternoon. Everybody in the queue noticed it on account of being forced to stare at the enormous grandfather clock in the hall all morning; it played the most horrible bell ensemble on the hour, every hour. Women could be heard ululating and celebrating his arrival while some shifted uneasily readying their unworthy selves for his presence. Pregnant mothers stood up in a haste clutching their stomachs, to meet him while he shook hands perhaps catch a glimpse in his eye and rack up enough sympathy to raise their children on charity. The men on the other hand cleared their throats, stood up straight and tried to get a word in before he moved on to the next ‘victim’. Street children all swarmed around him while mothers held their sons and daughters back as they tried to join the filthy clan at Hon. Hajji’s feet. In that moment, at 12:15 on a hot Tuesday afternoon, every man, woman and child on Hon. Haji’s executive floor held the illuminating hope that Today Mheshimiwa would solve all their problems and begin their cycles of blessings and prosperity. All their hope and faith they put in him, every single one of them. He found quite cultic, to be honest, as if they fasted and prayed in his name and worshiped him with great song around their dinner tables (or mats) before they partook in what might be the last meal they ever had.

Nevertheless, Hon. Hajji knew very well, this was what politics was about. Where he was from, the only requirement for politicians was a band of fanatics. Public officials rarely got elected unless they built the largest ‘fan club’ usually with money and empty promises or they were endorsed by another politician’s large fan club; that cost a large sum too and even more loyalty. Hon. Hajji had built his voter army in the small rural community where he was born. His mother had always been a vocal part of the community and before she puffed her last she had made sure her influence flowed smoothly over to her firstborn son. Even so, he still had to keep buying it somehow like a magazine subscription; hence the enormous queue outside his office. He gave the crowd one last wave before he stepped into his office and slumped heavily into his seat. His assistant followed him closely, closing the door behind her.

“The governor called, he wants to see you today.” She began, with no salutations while Hon. Hajji used an antiseptic wipe to kill off everything he may have picked up shaking hands outside his office.

“Tell him I’ve got a million constituents at my door, he can wait with them if it pleases him or make an appointment.”

“The bridge project has stalled.” She continued, ignoring his disrespect to the governor

“What? How? Call that Njoroge and tell him if he doesn’t start soon. We will put out another tender. A real one this time! We both know he’d never win one of those”

“Yes, sir. Lastly, how many people do you think you will get around to seeing today?”

“How many did I see last week?”

“100, sir”

“Today, make it fifty. I want to be home early.”

She nodded and turned to let the first constituent in. Hon. Haji first walked over to his office safe. From it he retrieved four large bundles of cash notes and lined them up at the edge of his desk closest to him. He returned to his seat, closed his eyes and began to gather all his wit and patience for he was about to deal with a constituency’s problems. It was a malnourished middle-aged woman, with her three equally malnourished bashful children who interrupted his meditation as they stumbled through the doorway. Her children all stared at Hon. Hajji from behind their mother’s skirt; one she had been forced to patch one too many times. Hon. Hajji sat up in his leather recliner.

“Madam. What is your name? Would you like to have a seat?” She shook her head vigorously. Hon. Hajji knew she was not accepting the offer because she felt unworthy to sit right across from the Great Mheshimiwa Hajji; most of them did the same.

“Ok then. How can I help you, Mama?” He resorted to the native language, trying to make her feel equal, comfortable.

“Mheshimiwa,” She bowed even if she didn’t have to. She truly was not even meant to. “It’s my husband.”

“What about him can I help with?” Hon. Hajji already knew where this was going. It was always the same story in a way.

Her husband was an alcoholic, “My husband likes to drink,” She swallowed hard, she was embarrassed, “A lot!” He urged her with an energetic nod.

He rarely comes home, maybe never? “Mheshimiwa, me and the children have not seen him for five days now. Five! Five!! Mheshimiwa, five!! ” She waved her stretched-out palm in the air as if it were the weapon she’d use to ‘discipline’ her husband when he finally decided to return. Hon. Hajji spoke calmly, leaning in.

“Do you have a job, Mama?” She shifted uncomfortably

Of course, he wouldn’t let her work, “I once worked at a salon in our village making young girls look pretty. But I was very young then myself. When I had my firstborn son, my husband insisted I stay at home and look after him. He hasn’t allowed me to go back since.” She dropped her head and began to stare intensely at her feet. Her face was now burning with shame and guilt. She didn’t speak for a moment but Hon. Hajji already knew what she would say next.

Give her money, She wants money.  “Mheshimiwa! I am not a charity case. I am able and I know that. And very soon,” She pulled her eldest son from behind her, “this one here is going to be old enough to do casual work. And might I add, he is very strong for his age.” She went silent again, now staring at the top of her son’s head. Her eyes began to moisten. She rubbed a rogue tear away hastily when she noticed her other two children peep up at her from behind her skirt.

“Mheshimiwa,” she spoke softly now, “It is just that this man has left me all alone with three of his children and no source of income and we do not know when he will return. My children cry at night because they cannot sleep because they are hungry.” She moved closer to his desk so he could see her bitterness, he sat up to move further away, “We haven’t eaten for three days and two nights, Mheshimiwa. I am afraid I am not able to feed or care for my children. I am scared for their lives and their health.” Tears began to choke her when she saw Hon. Hajji pull out two notes from his first bundle.

“Mama, I know you are loyal to your husband. But you also said you are able. You must go out and find yourself another job, no matter what it is, no matter what they pay. You hear me, Mama??”

“Yes, Mheshimiwa” She replied without shifting her eyes from the two notes in his hands.

“Take this. Feed your children. It should keep you until you find work.” He handed her the money. Her lips curled so wide while she crumbled the notes and stuffed them deep in her enormous bosom. Her children instantaneously began dancing around knowing three days of torture had just ended.

***

“Send in the last one!” Hon. Hajji bellowed over the intercom to his assistant. He had seen so many people all day, he was getting grumpy and irritable. Not to mention, everybody who ever came to his office wanted something from him.

“Sir, There are still about 60 people left waiting for you.”

“No! One!” He stood up from his seat. “You hear me! I will only see one more. I’m bloody tired and they all stink! It smells worse than a cow pen here now.”

Seconds later, a young man dressed reasonably better than everyone at his office that day walked confidently into his office and stood right in front of him. Hon. Hajji was still concentrated on counting the money left on his desk when the young man began to speak.

“My name is Jabari and I have a proposition for you. May I have a seat?” First, Hon. Hajji was startled by this man, his pristine appearance, his choice of words, his crystal accent-free of the mother tongue interference and the young man’s English which was so polished that it surprised Hon. Hajji who had been forced to speak in mother tongue all day to accommodate the other constituents. Most of all how for the first time in a long time he could not tell what the young man needed from him.

“Yes, please. Sit. I am eager to hear from you now.”

Manning Mysteries – Det. Cooper Series

Coop was staring past his badge in his hands when Rodger arrived with a scribble pad. Seeing the intense concentration in the detective’s eyes, Rodger hesitated even if he knew Cooper had seen him rush over to his cubicle. “Speak Rookie. What’d you find on Manning?” Coop said calmly raising from his seat. His tone was calmer, more collected than before. Rodger sensed that Cooper was more relaxed now than he was during their previous encounter that day.  “Well, her body was discovered in her new cottage when she was twenty-eight, twenty years ago. Her death was ruled a suicide and the case closed.” Rodger paused, searching his notepad with his eyes. “Something I don’t know, Rookie. Something we missed” Cooper said impatiently but surprisingly cautious not to intimidate the rookie like before.  This case took him back to the beginning, rock bottom, when he had nothing, knew nothing, and most importantly was nothing.

Twenty years ago, he had been a timid naïve rookie who’d barely made it out of the academy with a passing grade. Had it not been for his mentor and partner back then and a lot of strings pulling behind the curtain, Detective Cooper would have been just plain old Officer Cooper, directing traffic, picking up petty offenders or something more degrading. Twenty years ago, people reacted very differently when Cooper walked into the station. His partner back then, Bernstein Mitchell, was a seasoned detective with killer instincts. Mitchell seemed to be the only one who embraced Rookie Cooper back then.  He treated Cooper like a son, taught him everything he knew; most importantly taught him how to hold his own in the force. The day Cooper that found Estelle Manning was his third week on the force. He was still new, with only petty thefts and vandalism on his score card. Mitchel deliberately led Coop into the cottage first. Estelle Manning lay prostrate in a pool of blood on newly polished kitchen floors. Immediately, Cooper lost his composure while it was replaced with horror and discomfort. Cooper had raced out of the room, nauseated and ashamed of his reaction to the first dead body he ever saw. He was horrified, demented, terrified and scarred all at the same time. Of course, Mitchell wasn’t surprised by Rookie Cooper’s reaction.  “The kid was fresh from the academy, believing in rainbows and riding unicorns of course dead ladies scare him” He defended Cooper while the other officers teased and Rookie  Cooper dispelled what was left of his breakfast into the small flower bed near the  door.

Detective Cooper had come an extremely long way from that timid rookie; sick to his stomach in Estelle Manning’s quaint cottage. Now, the site of murder, no matter how gruesome, did not repulse him. Blood became something he had to get used to seeing even if it was his own. Being a homicide detective and all, Mitchell had said it was the only way. Mitchell and Coop were partners nine years after that; up until Mitchell was promoted to the highest rank in the station, Chief and Coop finally became a detective. Despite Cooper’s aloof nature, he managed to form some semblance of a sentimental relationship with Mitchell and Mitchell alone. No partner had ever gotten so close, No officer had ever gotten so close. Mitchell and Coop had always known that there was something suspicious about Estelle Manning’s suicide. Coop had frantically argued that they keep investigating her death, rather than rule it a suicide. Mitchell himself had been conflicted but had executively decided on the suicide verdict after some pressure from the top.

“Well, for starters. She is the only victim found at their own residence, that’s got to count for something, yes?” Rodger tried to indulge the day dreaming Cooper. He got no response but a ‘Please continue’ hand gesture from Brown who had also come over  to weigh in. “Like Alicia, the weapon used to slash her wrists was never found. But unlike the rest, she has family right here in the city.” Right on cue, Coop came back from his reveries of the past. He was not calm anymore; he was back to his anxious obnoxious self.  “Here? Address?” Rodger scribbled it down quickly and carelessly noticing the change in tone. Cooper grabbed it and seconds later, he was revving up the mustang engine yelling at Brown to hurry and get into the car.

***

Exactly forty-four minutes later, Det. Cooper and Brown were knocking gently on Lynette Fischer’s door, Estelle Manning’s last living relative. Cooper impatiently tapped his foot rhythmically on the wooden front porch. Brown knocked on the door again, a bit harder this time. Still no response. Cooper began to become anxious, tapping his foot more vigorously by the second. His eyes darted all around the front yard and his hand drew closer to his holster. He grabbed on his pistol readily and knocked again, even harder than before shouting “Open up! Police” As if from nowhere, a middle-aged lady furiously flung the door open. You could tell that this lady had once been breath-taking; most probably with a smile that could bring peace. However, now she stood slightly slouched, with her eyes sunken, her lips cracked and her wrinkles more pronounced than anyone would care to admit. She did not smile, she only grimaced hard. Cooper in her eyes saw the life he had never seen in Estelle’s even twenty years later and a few years apart in age, the resemblance between them was uncanny. Estelle would have looked like this, Cooper thought to himself.

Brown almost never spoke when Coop was around; he always felt out-of-place. Today was no different. So as Cooper ogled at similarities, Brown stood awkwardly staring at Coop, waiting for him to speak. Coop didn’t come to. Brown cleared his throat. “Miss Fischer?” Cooper and Lynette corrected him in unison, “Mrs Fischer!” Cooper continued. “My name is Det. Cooper and this is Det. Brown. We would like to ask you some questions.  Can we come in?“

“A bout of concern came over Lynette’s face as she nodded and showed them in. “Before we begin, Detective, just tell me this. Is it the children?” Lynette worried out loud while she led them to her living room. Brown was the comforter and the master of reassurance, so naturally he took the emotional doubts and queries while Coop asked the hard questions. “No, Ma’am. This has nothing to do with your children. Is this them?” Brown said comfortingly, pointing to a portrait of them on the wall in the living room. “Yes. What is it then?” Lynette was now a little irritated, knowing that this matter steered clear of her children.

“Your sister, Ma’am. A similar case has brought to our attention. There is now a great possibility that your sister did not kill herself; she was murdered. We were wondering if you could be of any help.” Coop took over swiftly in his calmest voice. However, Lynette seemed to be rid of a heavy burden hearing Det. Cooper’s question. “I knew I recognized you. You’re the guy who looked me and my parents in the face and told us Essie had killed herself.” Lynette spoke calmly at first. “Yes I am.” Came the reply. “Now, you are telling me. Someone killed her.” Lynette’s voice began to grow sour. “Yes I am. “Cooper nodded again. Lynette’s voice cracked “Twenty years! You think you’re right now, Detective?” Det. Cooper spoke more audibly now, taking responsibility. “I was just a rookie then, No resources, no instincts, no knowledge. Fate has brought your sister’s justice in my sights again. This time I’m ready.” He moved closer to her with his words, seeking true redemption and a second chance.

But Lynette was hysterical now. She screamed so loudly, no one could hear her words. She began to fling her arms at Detective Cooper in an attempt to hit, maybe hurt him. Cooper took a slap or two, a scratch here and there, until he felt the need to defend himself. He held her wrists tight over her head, when she began to kick him. Another kick here and there, then she went for his manhood. Det. Cooper instinctively moved to the side, pinned her to the wall and drew his Smith & Wesson in her face. Her body froze and she began to hyperventilate so that she was unable to speak. “I’ve killed people for a lot less, Lady.” Det. Cooper smiled at her and withdrew his weapon. He heard the ‘all too familiar’ sounds of the siren when Brown came in panting. “Brown, did you call the cops? You idiot! I wasn’t going to hurt her. Now Chief will kill me”

The Curse of Other Woman

It was the darkest day of the season. The clouds hang grey and heavy begging to burst onto the earth while the winds blew cold and strong as if telling a sad story to the plains over the hills. Every one stayed indoors. The park was calm today, devoid of its usual cheer and flare. No children ran around, no parents sat and chatted happily while they watched their children play. Not a soul, save for Jane and her son sitting on the oldest park bench under the dark shade of the largest oak tree in the park. Another icy cold breeze blew past them. The child held himself closer, shivering.

“Ma!” Jane startled from her stare, “I’m cold. Aren’t you cold?” The child said moving closer to her, burying his head in her side. Unusually Jane did not shiver or shudder at the weather, even if she was barely dressed for it. She shook her head without looking at the boy. The weather didn’t seem to faze her or penetrate her thoughts. Sitting there, just the two of them, all alone in the cold, that’s what she had to look forward to. She looked up at the clouds, the perfect metaphor for her life at the moment. She could see the grey in the clouds; hear the sound of thunder from a far, smell the wet earth preparing for the rain. She sat there and took it all in because this was the calm before the storm. The calmest she could hope for. In a few hours, there would be a downpour like no other she had seen, one she was not sure she could survive.

She had always imagined herself a stronger woman, a woman worthy of so much more but time had proved her to be something else. Something she didn’t want to define, someone she was ashamed of. She travelled through her memories to 12 years ago, exactly 12 years ago. Everything was so different, less opaque, and less bleak. She had much more to look forward to then. She was young and so beautiful that she would joke and say she had to beat off her suitors with a stick. She knew a simple man would never been enough for her. She had to have the perfect man, she had to have Ben. Lucky for a younger Jane, Ben wanted to have her too. They met on the 5th, got engaged on the 10th and were married by the first of the next month. It was sheer madness, back then it felt like sweet madness, it intrigued and excited her at the same time. Now it felt like a case of simple stupidity, a symbol of her naivety and foolishness. She thought back. Oh how naïve she must have been to imagine a man could be perfect and remain perfect rather than just appear perfect. Oh how foolish had she been to imagine that he would reserve his love and affections for her always, especially after 12 whole years had gone by.

She loosened her fists and let out a sigh. The child looked up at her worriedly. She didn’t look down at him. She just caressed her wedding ring with her thumb. It was one of his upgrades, not her original ring, not the one that was blessed at their wedding. It was just another one of his guilt gifts. “Ring number 4.” She mumbled under her breath. The more wrong Ben did to her, the bigger and better that ring got. Their vows had been renewed twice and he was now planning their third honeymoon. But she was smarter now than she was 12 years ago, she saw through him and the façade that was their marriage. The first wedding ring upgrade was after Angela, his ‘fitness instructor’ for a year before Jane found out the truth. She tried to meet him at the gym for a couple’s workout. She never returned to a gym again.  Their second honeymoon was after that girl Deedee showed up her door. She was a bit younger than Jane, prettier eyes, smaller frame, and all cried out, voice sore. Even Jane felt a pang of sympathy when she first saw her. She thought she was in danger or something. But she sat across from Jane behind a coffee mug Jane had served her and said they were having a child. Her Ben and this Deedee. Jane winced at the memory. She remembered she didn’t speak for a week after that, not to family, not to friends especially not to Ben. But he had returned two weeks later with tickets for a month on the Caribbean Islands. She caved again, bought into his love and forgave him.

He decided that they would renew their vows just after she found out about Joan. She was older, less attractive but she came with wealth that Jane had never even dreamed of. At first, he said they were ‘business partners’. She believed him only because she knew her life was expensive and so was his and furthermore she didn’t like to challenge Ben when it came to money. She met Joan in the back of a clothes store; Joan had followed Jane to the changing rooms. As soon as Jane stepped out to see herself in a new outfit she was trying on, Joan pounced on her screaming. “You whore! You stole my Ben and my money.” It took a while, a few security guards and a plain clothed policeman with a Taser to calm her down. Jane finally found out his ‘business partner’ was doing more than just business and Ben liked her so much he even told her that Jane was just one of his girlfriends. Jane left this time, a month at her parents’. But sure as rain, Ben came back with a wedding dress and a bigger wedding ring. She remembered him crying, on his knees. He looked so helpless and pathetic like he had made the worst mistake in his life. It felt different from the other times. So again she gave in, threw on the white gown and her biggest smile and invited everyone she knew to watch Ben recommit after all he had done. She felt like the prophet of forgiveness and new beginnings. A few months after, they were blessed with Jared, their baby boy. Jane loved that boy like she could love no other. Jared changed everything; not enough of everything however. Some things were still somewhat the same.

There came Katie and Charlie who were all so kind to reveal themselves to her as twin mistresses at a friend’s wedding. They were not really twin sisters. Jane assumed they enjoyed taking other women’s husbands, twice and together.  Jane could still remember that night, clear as day. She had totally lost her grip on herself. It was the end; rather it felt like the end. She wasn’t going to take it anymore, she repeated to herself in a whisper. The man had no respect for her and now absolutely none for their son. She left Katie babbling about something she didn’t need to hear while Charlie agreed with her as vocally as she could. She walked straight towards him. Ben was standing in a crowd of people who seemed thoroughly entertained with his tales as he gestured and narrated. She shoved away two ladies who were obviously swooning over him. “One wasn’t enough! You had to have two mistresses, Ben??” She said as she flung her hands at him every which way just trying to hit him, hurt him, finally pay him back. The real police, uniform and all had to pull her away from him; at which point she was hysterical screaming, “I’ll kill you Ben, I swear!!” and brandishing a dinner fork. That time, she convinced herself she was staying with Ben for young Jared. So the vows were renewed again, bigger and better and the wedding ring had to big enough that it blinded all those women who tried to remind her of her crumbling marriage.

That was a long time ago too. Exactly three years ago. Jared was older now and the signs were more than clear. There was a new girl or new girls, you never knew with Ben. Ben said less, was seen less but certainly gave more; more money, a new car, talk of a new estate. Something seemed odd; No, not odd. Something rang all too familiar for Jane. So she sat there beside Jared, waiting for it to rain; in her life and on the ground. She looked down at Jared who had cuddled up to her side and fallen asleep. He was a rather peaceful boy but not a foolish one however. He would definitely notice if something changed. Jane thought of all the love that Jared had, despite all the animosity brought upon her by Ben and all the tension that still lingered. Jared didn’t appear to pick sides; and she didn’t want to make him choose. But did that mean she was doomed to fight mistresses all her life? Did it mean she would have to survive in that lonely, loveless marriage? She felt the burden of those 12 years on her shoulders. Her skin was now wrinkled and sagged a little under her eyes, her eyes sunk back into her sockets as if she was ailing. She was no longer full and round body, her curves had shed over the years. She was old now. She couldn’t compete. She didn’t want to compete. 12 years is a long time to fight for love, alone. She was tired and ready to give up. She was conflicted. She knew she had a duty to herself to walk away from the things that hurt her, use her and abuse her but she also knew that Jared needed his father. Evil man or not, adulterer or not, that man was his father.

One thing, however, rang clear in Jane’s mind; Ben was a cheater, an all-round fully fletched cheater. And he wouldn’t change; not for Jared, their son and certainly not for her. She had to admit it and accept it. She had married a cheater and she was now plagued with the curse of the other woman!