Monday, January 28, 2013

“Maria, how about I stay up here and get dinner started while you go to that tenants meeting.  I’m still too shaken up about that dude offing himself from last time.  I don’t want to go sit down there.”  Valissa is seated at the kitchen table rummaging through her backpack and pulling out all of her school materials.  She’s been conjuring up an excuse to get out of going to the tenants meeting, but not at all for the reason she’s giving.

Maria looks at Valissa sideways.  “Huh…stay here and get dinner started,” she scoffs, unconvinced.  “ I’ve known you all your life, Lissa.  What are you really up to?”  Maria rambles through a drawer to gather a notepad and writing utensil. 

“Ugh, why I always gotta be up to something’?  I’m a teenager-”

“That’s exactly why-“

“I want to move.  I just ain’t got no interest in y’all’s li’l meetin’.  Besides, I have homework and tests to study for and –“

“So what were you planning to serve for dinner then with all that going on?”

“I don’t know.  Probably some ravioli.”

Ravioli, Lissa?  When have I ever heated something from a can and called it dinner?”  Maria closes the drawer and places her hand on her hip while propped against the counter.

Valissa starts to giggle.  “You could’ve been having ravioli for dinner, Maria.  All you had to do was add some bread and heat up a vegetable or serve a salad.  What’s the difference?”

Maria shakes her head and gives in with a chuckle.  “You get that lesson done and I’ll worry about dinner when the meeting is over.  Hopefully, it won’t run too long.”  Maria cradles her pad and prepares to leave.

“Thanks, Maria.”  Valissa pretends to review her assignments.

“Thanks nothing.  I don’t want any mess out of you, Lissa.”

“Dag, that was quick,” Valissa sighs, noting the sudden shift in tone.  “Why don’t you wait until I’ve actually done something sometimes before you start with that?”

Maria opens the door and turns toward her before exiting.  “Homework and study.  I’m gonna want to know how you did on those tests.”

“And you’re gonna feel terrible when you find out I’ve been doing exactly what I told you I was doing.”  Valissa smiles to try and lighten the mood again.

Maria shakes her head again and laughs.  “I’ll lock the door.”  She eases the door shut and uses the key to lock it, checking before heading to the stairs.  In her heart of hearts she wishes things could be the way they were between her and Valissa before the divorce, when they were a family.  But Valissa has disappointed her so much.  To think too much of anything she says is setting herself up for disappointment.   Yet, Maria dare not mention her role in the deterioration of their relationship.  She could tend to drink too much.  But the reality of it is that she wouldn’t turn to the alcohol nearly as often if Valissa would behave.  And if Gabe had been home more.  But that’s neither here nor there, now.  This is the life that they have now and she can only try to make the best of it.

Meanwhile, Valissa squints trying to look through the peephole on the door.  Just a couple minutes more to make sure she hasn't forgotten anything.  Knowing her the way she does, if she remembers something after she's started down those stairs she won't climb back up to get it.  Kind of lazy.  Seems like the coast is clear.  Valissa dashes to the entertainment armoire where the phone is placed.  Almost without thinking she's dialed and is awaiting a connection on the other end.  Finally he answers.

"What took you so long?"

"Don't trip.  You know I had to wait for Maria to leave.  You close by?"

"I'm exactly where I told you I'd be."

"Give me 10 minutes and I'll be there."

"Hurry up.  I've waited long enough as it is."

"Then 10 more minutes ain't gonna kill you.  See you in a few."

Valissa disconnects the call all smiles.  This is just too good to be true. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Emotionally exhausted, Juniper collapses on her chaise and carefully removes her heels before relaxing. 
She watches Bethany follow with her duffel bag.  Bethany of course has an open door policy until she can vacate the property she and the deceased shared and get it sold.  Bethany drops her duffel bag beside the davenport and eases down to take a seat herself.  Her eyes remain bloodshot from crying and she moves as if entranced.

“Sweetie, why don’t you relax and I’ll draw you a bath.  The spare room is all made up and you can lay down.  I’ll wake you when dinner is ready.”

“Huh?” Bethany responds in a blank fugue.  

“Oh, honey,”  Juniper rises from the davenport and sits next to Bethany, embracing her.  More tears resume their trail down her face.  “How about you just lay down right here.”  Juniper eases Bethany into a more comfortable position, removes her shoes and covers her with a blanket. 

“Oh, Nip please add the young lady in the building to the list of those needing Thank You cards.  The food was outstanding.”  Bethany snuggles onto the davenport and closes her eyes.

Juniper returns to the chaise and watches as she quickly slips into slumber.  Attendance was so sparse at the funeral that she couldn’t help but wonder if there had been some confusion about the date or time.  Or was he an imbecile in more than just her eyes?  Assisting Bethany with the arrangements because he was disconnected from his family was even more insulting - more difficult than she had let on.  Bethany insisted on a traditional funeral.  Juniper was more in favor of a cremation.  Yes, it seems cruel and void of compassion to think of the deceased in this way.  But how can she feel anything else for a man who repeatedly abused her friend?  A party in memory of this momentous occasion would seem more appropriate to Juniper.   

Apparently the kindergarten scribbles he was able to pass off as art sold enough to pay for burial insurance.  Surprisingly though was that he had a life insurance policy.  With the statements that were given to the police, the death was ruled as accidental suicide.  Insurance remains obligated to make payment and Bethany is the sole beneficiary.  Once she’s cognizant enough to discuss it, Juniper will definitely have a conversation with her to find out the amount and what her plans are for the money.

A knock at the door interrupts her train of thought. 

“Just a moment!”  Juniper scurries to the door to keep Beth from being aroused from her sleep.  After a quick glance into the peephole she opens the door.

“Alesandra, please come in,”  Juniper widens the door, inviting her in.  “I have the check right over here.”  Juniper retrieves her purse and begins rambling for her wallet.  “The food was excellent.  You are quite talented.”

“I hope it isn’t too much of an imposition to stop by, but I have class tonight and I thought it’d be rude to wait much later.”  Alesandra is standing close to the door.  Her eyes fall on Bethany, sleeping.

“No, now is good.”  Juniper finally removes the check from her wallet and extends it to Alesandra, noticing that Alesandra is staring at Bethany.

“How has she been?”  Alesandra accepts the check and awaits a response, not wanting to just accept payment and leave.

“As well as can be expected I guess, under the circumstances,” Juniper nods.

“Please give her my best.  And if there’s anything I can do-“

“Thank you so much, Alesandra.  Oh, and I’ll be calling on you again to do something for the next tenants meeting.  So, keep an ear out.”  They smile and nod at each other.  Alesandra exits and Juniper quietly eases the door shut.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

“…and in local news tonight Artist F. Lamar Dollison has died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  Dollison showed up attempting to reconcile with his girlfriend Bethany Greggs at a tenants meeting to discuss the city’s decision to convert Millford Estates into luxury hotel “The Millford” as part of the city’s Urban Renewal and Expansion program headed by Councilman Ford.  After Greggs refused to leave with him, he reportedly pulled out his .32 caliber revolver and shot himself.  Investigators say Dollison has recently experienced harsh criticism for his work at an art showing for the esteemed  Tres Noire Gallery over the weekend.  He had also been removed from consideration for a $200,000 contract to provide artwork for the newly redesigned “Millford” and was given the news preceding the incident.  Services for Dollison had not been planned at the time this report was given.  Now let’s turn to Mary Weathers with a look at our local weather and traffic.  Mary…”

“Damned media always giving too much information with subtle inaccuracies.  She said a mouthful, but it sounded like I was at the tenant’s meeting with them.”  Councilman Ford uses his remote to click the television off.  He gets out of his oversized mahogany leather chair and walks over to the bar, reaching for his cognac.  “I have a meeting with the investors first thing in the morning.  Then with the city.”  He pours the cognac and extends an offer to Keagan Trudeaux who refuses with a shake of his head.  “Damned prick probably staged this on purpose because he was withdrawn from the art deal.”  The Councilman takes a swig of cognac. “The way I’m thinking, this could go either way.”

“Yeah.  Hate to do this to you, but let me be the voice of reason here.” Keagan eases further back into the couch. “The truth is that for what we’re planning, and what the investors had in mind, this bit of publicity could put the project on hold at best.  I mean, luxury suites at what has become a crime scene?  The one thing that we were pushing that had us in the running was that the crime stats were low.  And eventhough this guy offed himself, I just don’t think it’ll sit well with what we’re hoping to attract.”

“They don’t necessarily have to know.  How many people research if a renovated business was once a part of a crime scene?”  Councilman Ford is pacing while taking swigs of his cognac.  “Damn, this was my major reelection ticket.  And I want to attract some higher income residents!  These poor, disadvantaged nobodys are comfortably parked at the expense of our city’s progress.  Now, I might not get them out of this district with this deal, but believe me I will eventually make this what I want it to be.”

“Councilman,” Keagan playfully scorns.  “What a way to talk about your cherished voters who have elected you to represent them.”

Councilman Ford stops pacing as if that comment has sobered his conscience.  That is, until he notices the malicious grin on Keagan’s face.  He quietly chuckles as he returns to his mahogany leather chair.  “Keagan, the people elect someone to represent them.  Make decisions on their behalf in their ignorance.  He places his glass on a coaster and reaches in his pocket to retrieve his lighter and a cigar.  Whether they realize it or not,”  Councilman Ford rests the cigar on his lips and lights it, taking a long, deep draw before exhaling a thick cloud of smoke and returning the lighter to his pocket, “ this move is actually what’s best for them.  We’ve already seen evidence of that.  Violence has penetrated their community.  They no longer feel safe there.  They’ll want to move.”

“And we’re just the people to make them understand that.” Keagan smiles.


Monday, January 7, 2013

“Beth, why haven’t you answered my calls?”

Bethany stands looking as though she’s unsure of herself.  She’s about to speak, but doesn’t know what to say.  Just as she parts her lips, she notices that he has a pistol tucked in his trousers. 

He notices her eying the gleaming steel.  He draws the weapon from his pants and looks at it.  “I don’t know why I brought this.  It really doesn’t seem necessary, does it?”  He begins examining the gun as if it’s something foreign to him.  As if in some transient state, slightly detached from the reality of the situation.

Bethany can’t take her eyes off of the gun.  Juniper runs into the foyer.  Her pace is abruptly halted when she sees the gun.  “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!?!”

He points the gun at Juniper, startled by her presence. 

“NO!” Bethany yells, grabbing Juniper and attempting to shield her.  They embrace each other, feeling helpless.

Realizing it’s Juniper, he gives her a unintentional grin.  “What?  Do you think I’m really going to hurt her?  I love her!”  He shifts his focus to Bethany.  “I love you, Beth,” he whispers with pleading eyes.  Noticing that neither of them have taken their eyes off the pistol, he tries to make light of the situation.

“This thing isn’t even loaded,” he assures them as he turns the gun on himself.  “See.”

Gunfire reverberates through the foyer and a warm body collapses to the floor. 

Time seems to have flashed forward, yet moves ever so slowly.  The place is not occupied by police and the media.  Beth stays crouched beside her abuser who has once again managed to make himself appear the victim. Paramedics move in to assist.   Juniper stands staring at her in disbelief, wondering what kind of fool’s love or drugs she could possibly have gotten into to care so much for that man.  Her thoughts are interrupted.

“Ma’am, I know this might be difficult for you, but we need you to try your best to explain what happened while it’s fresh on your mind.”  A female officer places a blanket over Juniper’s shoulders and walks her toward the meeting room, where she takes a seat.    She’s shivering with terror but trying her best to control her body movements.  The meeting room once full of angry tension is now weighed with sorrow and disbelief.  Some others remain present and are also answering questions while talking amongst each other.  The officer offers her a tissue. 

“This maniac just came in here and tried to get her to leave in front of all of us.  He’s been beating her for most their relationship.  But I can’t believe the nerve of this idiot.”  Juniper sniffs and tries to hold back the tears that are forming.  “I tried to get her to leave him, but she wouldn’t.  She kept going back.”

“The two of you are friends?”

“Yes.  Most of my life, since like second grade or something.”  The tears flow endlessly now.

Another officer interrupts and whispers to the officer interviewing Juniper.  Almost simultaneously, a scream can be heard from the foyer, startling Juniper.  She turns around in her chair.  “What’s happening?”

“The man involved has just died,” the officer answers while jotting down notes.  “Self-inflicted gunshot wound point blank range to the head.  Not many survive those.”  The officer hands her a card.  “If you have questions, you can give me a call.  And of course, if we need any additional information I’ll be in touch.”

Juniper takes the card and the officer leaves.  She rushes back to where Bethany is kneeled in the foyer and envelops her in an embrace as the paramedics hoist the body onto the gurney and proceed to exit the premises.  Bethany is crying and rocking back and forth.  “No, Jun.  I never wanted this to happen,” she quietly sobs in a disillusioned hysteria.  “I just wanted him to get some help.  I didn’t want him to…to die.”

Juniper wishes she could offer some consolation, but the moment he flashed the pistol keeps replaying in her mind.  The only thoughts she has are that she’s glad he killed himself and didn’t injure her, Bethany or anyone else for that matter.  As painful as this moment is for Beth, it’s finally over.  He’ll never beat her again. 

A tall, well-dressed statuesque gentleman is being accompanied inside the building by an officer and another gentleman dressed in business attire.  Juniper is distracted, still hoping to get a chance to speak with the owner of the building or some city official.  The gentleman is being brought up to speed by the officer regarding the course of events.  Juniper tunes in to their conversation.

“…and apparently the man 86ed himself because of some disagreement with a young lady that was attending the tenants meeting,” the officer concludes.

“But she doesn’t reside in this building?”

“No, sir.  She’s friends with one of the tenants.”

“Look, we’ve got a pretty decent deal going on this property.  What can we do to minimize the press on this?  I don’t want to jeopardize these negotiations.” 

“Not much can be done, now.  As you can pretty much tell, the press are already all over it.”  The officer motions toward the people taking pictures that are with the newspapers and some camera crew setting up to do a live feed.  He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a card.  “If you have questions, you can call the station.  If you’ll excuse me.”  The officer nods and resumes conversing with other law enforcement personnel.

“Well if they wanted to save the building, this certainly isn’t the right way to go about it.  This has not only potentially ruined our plans, but put a dent in the crime rate and added another thorn to our statistics.  We haven’t had a violent crime in this area in quite a few years.”  The tall, well-dressed gentleman turns toward the other beside him.  They look around seemingly disgusted and puzzled at the same time.  A teenager bumps into them trying to squeeze by.  She’s chatting nonstop on her cellular.

“…and how about some dude shows up trying to get his girlfriend to leave in front of everybody.  She doesn’t at first, but then runs out behind him after he finally decides to go.  Then her friend runs out after her.  And girl the man end up blowing his brains out in the foyer.  I mean, what kind of mess is this?  It’s like some crap you’d see on tv.  There’s police all over the place.  Folks with the newspapers and from the news askin’ questions and stuff.  Ooo, what if they shut the building down and I get to move back home with daddy…”  Valissa strolls beside the refreshment table and reaches past two ladies to get herself another appetizer.  “Hmm.  These things are good.”

“Thank you,”  Alesandra gives a weak smile and watches the teenager make way to a seat beside a woman she assumes is her mother.

“Why did something like this have to happen today?  I had a surprise for you,” Tish scoffs.

“And just what kind of surprise is that?”  Alesandra inquires while beginning to pack up the serving trays.

Tish reaches in her messenger bag and pulls out a flyer, holding it visibly in front of her chest.  “Ta Da!”

“”The Epicurean fine cuisine and pastry,’” Alesandra reads.  “What is this about?”  She takes the flyer and continues reading over it.

“I was going to help you get paid, girl,” Tish squeals.  “You’ve been getting called upon quite often to do these little favors, and it’s time you started raking in some dollars.  After all, this is your chosen profession.”

“Tish,” Alesandra glares at her.  “Let me put you on pause there for a second.  My plate is full just trying to finish school.  I can’t tag on any additional weight right now.  I’m focused on finishing so I can get on at –“

“Ok, let me stop you right there because you’re not making sense.  Aren’t you taking  time to do these favors anyway despite all that you have on your plate trying to finish school?”

Alesandra hesitates for a moment in thought.  “Yeah…” she slowly utters.

“All you’ll be doing is getting paid for what you’re already volunteering to do.”  Tish’s argument is reasonably sound.  “We could start by hitting this guy’s family up to do the food at the repass.”

Alesandra stares blankly at Tish.  “Sometimes I really can’t believe you’re my sister.”  Her eyes catch a glimpse of an elderly lady walking behind her.

Geneva barely can make her way to the foyer because there’s so much commotion.  The few moments she spent watching were more than just to satisfy her own curiosity.  It had occurred to her that an officer might want to speak with her.  She had a bird’s eye view of everything from the back where she was seated.  At first she thought nothing of the gentleman that leaned against the doorway.  He looked a little rough.  Had a five o’clock shadow and bloodshot eyes.  Geneva figured he was just hung over or something.  These young people these days party hard like the world’s coming to an end.  And, she’d never seen him in the building before, but then again she’d not recognized most of the other tenants.  On second thought, he did have a strange kind of wild look in his eyes as he scanned the crowd.  Oh, but what’s an old woman like Geneva know about strange looking men.  Just about every generation is full of strange looks to her nowadays.  No one asked her any questions.  And from what she could gather, the young man probably didn’t survive.  So it probably wasn’t necessary to get any additional information.

It certainly would be a dreadful misfortune if she’s forced to find another building.  It took quite a while to find a place that could accommodate her fixed income.  With all the prices going up it would be too difficult and too much of a financial strain to start all over again.  She laughs to herself.  It’s funny how the citizens can become an inconvenience to the city in the name of progress.  She pauses and takes notice of the people buzzing around, then looks up the stairs.  These cruel stairs.  So steep for an old woman to have to climb.  The elevator hasn’t worked since she’s lived here.  Then she thinks about Quincy.  If he calls, she’d have something to talk to him about.  He’s sure to see the story on the evening news.  Just as she’s about to begin her climb a woman eases past her, a teenager walking alongside.

“So, how about we move back to the west side.  We don’t have to live that close to daddy.  And I can go to that other school if you don’t want me back at the Academy.”

“And have you reunite with those hoodlums?  Absolutely not.  What we’re gonna do is wait and find out what they plan to do about this first.  I doubt any deal is gonna happen now with a mess like this drawing attention to this building.”

“But Maria who wanna walk through the lobby everyday knowing that’s where that man blew his brains out.  It could be too traumatic for me and…”

Maria gives Valissa a sideways glance and laughs.  “Then you are traumatized each and every step you take out there on that concrete.  This is the city, baby.  Lots of folks have met their end right out there on them streets.  Besides, like that lady was saying in the tenants meeting, it’s too expensive to keep moving.”

“Ahhh!”  Valissa stomps up the stairs ahead of her mother mumbling.