Hi there! 🙂 In addition to posting another excerpt from my second novel, I’d like to announce my giveaway of the audiobook codes for a free copy of Least Wanted.
Here’s a link to the previous chapter.
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Having dispensed with that, let’s move on, shall we? 🙂
Here’s another chapter for your consideration.
Tina’s indifference and bravado were absent in the Patuxent Detention Center’s visiting area the following day. She sat hunched in a chair across the table from me, wearing a plain white T-shirt and jeans. She looked at me with wide, fearful eyes.
“I brought these for you,” I said, handing over three young adult books I’d picked up at Books-A-Million in the Laurel Shopping Center, not far from my Main Street office.
“Thanks.” Tina set them on the table, without looking at them. “When can I leave?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “There’ll be an emergency hearing tomorrow before a master—as I explained before, a master’s like a judge and decides certain kinds of cases. Anyway, he’ll decide whether to release you to your father’s care. I hope I can get you out, but it may be tough.”
“Whatchoo mean, you hope?” Her voice rose a few anxious decibels.
“I mean you’re facing some serious charges here. They may find you’re a potential danger to the community, especially since you’ve already been charged with assault.”
“But I din’t do nuthin’.”
“But they think you did and that may be enough for now.”
Tina paused, her eyes filling with tears. “I swear, I din’t do it. I wouldn’t kill anyone. Why they think I’d kill my own moms?”
“I don’t have the file yet. I’ll get it first thing tomorrow, when they hold your hearing. I’ll meet with you before we go into the courtroom.”
Our meeting would be a rush-rush affair. I’d probably get an incomplete file and ten minutes tops to confer with her before the hearing. I could picture how it would go down—me, trying to discuss Tina’s case and calm her nerves, while my stomach churned.
I’d take a standard approach—emphasize the good stuff about Tina, in hopes that the master would allow her house arrest with some kind of electronic monitoring. Not that I trusted Tina’s father to keep her home, but the only alternative was detention in an overcrowded, understaffed facility.
“Let’s talk about last Wednesday,” I said. Shanae’s body had been discovered Thursday morning by a neighbor, and from what William Jackson had told me, it appeared she’d been killed Wednesday night. “Did you see your mother at all that day?”
“Only in the mornin’. I was staying clear of her, ’cuz she was all up in my business. So most o’ the day, I was wit’ Rochelle.”
“Rochelle? The one you defended in that fight at school.”
And leader of the Pussy Posse, I mentally noted.
“When you say your mom was ‘in your business,’ what do you mean exactly?”
“She always bitchin’ at me. Like I can never do nothing right.” She paused, then said, “She used to, I mean. Sometimes, when she like that, I jus’ wouldn’t go home. Or I’d wait for her to go to work first.”
“I take it she worked most nights?”
“Yeah, mos’ nights.”
“How about last Wednesday? Was she supposed to work?”
“Where were you that day?”
“At school, then I went to Rochelle’s.”
“Let’s try that again,” I said, recalling Alice Fortune’s story that Tina hadn’t been at school all that week. “And make it the truth this time. You skipped school that day, didn’t you?”
Tina’s mouth dropped open. “How you know that?”
“Never mind how I know. You skipped school all week, am I right?”
She looked up at me with wary eyes. “Yeah.”
“What were you doing?”
“Jus’ hangin’ wit’ Rochelle.”
“So she was skipping, too? Every day?”
“What did you guys do?”
“Hung out at her place, watched TV, went to the mall. Whatever.”
She must have been talking about Iverson Mall, which wasn’t far from her house.
“Why didn’t you go to school?”
She shrugged. “Jus’ wanted to take a break.”
“What did you do Wednesday? The mall or her house?”
“We was at her place. I did go by my house that morning to get some stuff, ’cause I wanted to stay at Rochelle’s again that night. I figured I’d slip in while my moms was asleep, but she wasn’t.”
Tina’s mouth curled down at the sides. “She see me and, suddenly, she be all in my face, yellin’ an’ callin’ me worthless an’ shit.” Tears began to flow down her cheeks again and she swept them away with the palm of her hand. “Like she so much better,” she added, in a tight voice.
“Did your mother ever hit you?”
“Sometimes, when she been drinkin’. She was a lot meaner that way when she was on crack.”
“But she kicked that habit, right? And stayed clean?”
“I dunno. I guess so.”
“Did she hit you that day?”
She shook her head.
“Tina, did you love your mother?”
She shrugged again. “I dunno. I guess. Ain’t you s’posed to?” She turned a puzzled, anguished gaze my way. “I do know I din’t kill her.” Her voice cracked with sorrow. “Even if she din’t love me, I wouldn’t do that.”
Her sorrow and frustration felt real to me, and I’ve dealt with my share of liars. Losing her mother was bad enough. Feeling like Shanae hadn’t loved her must have been a crushing blow, made worse by her own ambivalent feelings.
“Tina, she was probably under a lot of stress, not only about you, but about money. Her job. I’m not trying to make excuses for her, but maybe she just wasn’t good at expressing her love.”
Another shrug. “Whatever.”
“So that night, what did you do?”
“Like I say, jus’ hung out in Rochelle’s room watching TV. Some friends came over.”
“You didn’t go anywhere?”
She shook her head. “Naw.”
“And Rochelle’s mother didn’t mind your staying over?”
“Rochelle’s mother don’t care about none of that.”
It was time to ask the $25,000 question. “Is it true that Rochelle is the leader of a girl gang called the Pussy Posse?”
Tina froze. An eye twitched. “Who tole’ you that shit?”
“A reliable source.”
She paused. “I ain’t never heard of them.”
“Are you sure? Was the purse snatching an initiation rite for getting into the gang?”
Tina worked her mouth a bit. “I dunno ’bout no gang.”
“This is important, Tina. I need you to be honest with me,” I said, as forcefully as possible. “I heard Rochelle heads a gang called the Pussy Posse. Is this true?”
Tina shook her head. “I dunno.”
Realizing that this dance could go on forever, I dropped the subject for the time being.
“You ever do drugs, Tina?”
“Naw,” she said, her head bowed.
She shook her head, eyes glued to her lap.
“Look at me,” I said, putting some steel in my voice. “I get the distinct feeling you’re not being straight with me. If I’m going to be your lawyer, you gotta be straight with me.”
“That ain’t the way I heard it.”
“Then you heard wrong. When I ask you a question, I want to hear the truth. If it’s the ugly truth, so be it. But if you lie to me and I’m blindsided because of it, you’re not doing either of us any favors.” I paused to take a breath and looked at Tina, who still wouldn’t look back. “Now, gang or no gang, were you and your friends drinking or doing any drugs that night?”
“Ah-ight. We was getting a little high, yeah. But we just did some weed is all. Really.”
If that were true—and that was a big if—I could believe she hadn’t killed anyone that night. Unlike a drinker, a pot smoker was far more likely to steal a bag of Cheetos from a 7-Eleven than beat someone to death.
“And did anyone other than the girls and Rochelle’s mom see you there?”
She fidgeted in her chair. “Naw. They the only ones know where I was.”
“How about Rochelle’s neighbors? Did any of them see you or stop by while you were there?”
“I dunno. I don’t think so.”
Splendid. My client’s alibi could be backed by some friends, one of whom was the reputed head of a girl gang, and all of whom were stoned at the time and might have any number of reasons to lie for her. I made a mental note to verify Tina’s story with Rochelle’s mother. Tina had already lied to me about being at school and smoking pot. I figured on talking to Shanae’s neighbors, too, in case anyone saw or heard anything that night.
“Do you know of anyone who would want to hurt to your mother?”
“I dunno.” She shrugged.
“Did she have any boyfriends?”
Tina’s mouth twisted into an ironic grin. “Little D weren’t exactly a boyfriend. He just a friend, but he’d come by a lot to see her.”
“What’s his name?”
“Do you know his full name?”
“All I know is, Little D. He drive a sparkly green car with fancy wheels.”
“So . . . do you want to tell me anything else about that night before I go?”
“Naw,” she said, her eyes downcast.
“You never saw your mother that night?”
“No.” Her voice was firm, unequivocal. “I was keeping clear of her. I swear.”
“And you definitely didn’t kill her?” Even though she’d already answered, I had to ask again.
“No! I did not kill my own moms.” Her voice was harsh with indignation. Tears welled. She was either giving me an Oscar-worthy performance or she was just a confused and upset 13-year-old, being wrongfully held for the murder of her own mother.
She swallowed and fixed a solemn, wide-eyed gaze on me. “So, my hearing tomorrow, right?”
“Yes. They’ll bring you to the courthouse and, like I said, I’ll get to see you before court starts.”
“And then I can leave this place?” She shivered and lowered her voice.
“I’ll do my best, but I can’t make any promises. This is murder we’re talking about.”
“Please. I gots to get outta here.” Tina barely whispered, her voice ragged with emotion. Her expression radiated pure fear. “I’m scared. E’ryone here so mean. Girls walkin’ ’round here with shivs made of toofbrushes and shit. An’ the guards don’t do nothin’.”
“Hang in there, Tina. I’ll do everything I can to get you home.”
Even as I said it, I wondered what the word “home” meant to her. Did she really have a home with her father? I had reservations about Rodney Fisher’s abilities in that role. Yet, I doubted she was better off in here. It was well known that juvenile detention facilities were poorly run and could be as dangerous as the worst streets of Baltimore. It was a depressing dilemma. It was my duty as her advocate to get her out, if I could, regardless of Rodney Fisher’s failings as a father.
* * * * *
Back at the office, thoughts of home led to a memory of a day at the beach with my parents. I couldn’t have been much older than seven. As we traipsed across the hot sand, my mother’s wavy blonde hair and tiny blue bikini turned lots of heads. She wore bright red lipstick, Jackie O−style sunglasses, and an infectious smile. My dad unfurled the blanket and planted a tattered pink umbrella in the sand with the authority of Admiral Perry staking a claim on the North Pole. He stripped off his yellow T-shirt to expose a pale, but healthy-looking set of pecs.
“Well, kid,” he said. “Ready to hit the water?”
I shook my head no, knowing how cold that first contact would be, but he grabbed me and tossed me over his shoulder like a sack of grain. Carrying me kicking and squealing the whole way, he ran for the surf, plunged in, and waded to a point where he dropped me.
The shock from the cold water was like a slap. It may have been only a few feet deep, but I floated free. Murky sounds burbled around me. Instinct kicked in and I pushed to the surface, gasping for air as I broke through, my father’s laughter ringing in my ears.
* * * * *
Recalling the beach, with my parents alive and happy, caught me short. Grief washed over me in a way it hadn’t since they’d died in a plane crash when I was nine. I closed my eyes, willing the image to dissolve. When I opened them, I was surprised to find my cheeks wet.
Backhanding the tears away, I focused on Tina again. She was the one with the problems—bigger problems than I’d ever faced.
I wanted to believe Tina, but doubt lingered in the back of my mind. Could she have killed Shanae? Could she be lying about that night? Shanae’s beating was too extensive for self-defense. Or was it? If Shanae had been on drugs, a crack high could’ve made her violent. And very powerful. Someone using the bat in self-defense might have had to kill her to stop her.
This led to a disquieting thought. What if Tina had killed Shanae in self-defense, but was afraid to admit it? Even to herself.
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