Chapter 11: “She’s Involved”
Tina: Not gonna make it in time for dinner. Tell Ms. Bernice I’ll pay extra. See you in a bit.
Janiyah stared at the text on the screen for the tenth time. She had been looking at it on and off for an hour. Not only was Tina going to be home late again, but Janiyah would have to be the one to break the news to Miss. Bernice that she was being forced to work late again. There was nothing worse than letting someone down more than once. This was the third time this week.
Janiyah sat the phone down on the counter, watching as Miss. Bernice swung her bag over her shoulder. Damn, and she would be just about to leave. Now I gotta tell her she can’t until Tina gets here. Those were the rules. Kayla and Mike were already knocked out on the couch. They were hoping to stay up to catch Tina. Janiyah saw the frustration in Bernice’s face.
“Why don’t you go ahead Miss. Bernice.”
Bernice looked at her watch. “Are you sure? I can wait a few more minutes.”
“No, you go on. I can watch the kids.”
Miss. Bernice looked at Janiyah with a raised brow, that was against Miss Tina’s rules. Even though Janiyah was of age, Tina was overprotective since Ronnie died. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, your good. Go on.”
“Thank you so much,” she said hugging Janiyah on her way out the door. “Love you baby.”
“I love you too Miss. Bernice. Take care.”
Janiyah shook her head and then walked over to the couch.
“Alright you two. Up. Come on.”
She tugged at Kayla and Mike to get them to stand, pulling their arms. They whined and pleaded to stay.
“Nope, time to get up. Come on, let’s go.”
Janiyah got the kids walking, albeit slowly, through the living room and up the stairs to bed. She had just pulled the covers over Mike when she heard the keys in the door.
“Thank you, Miss. Bernice, I am so sorry there was a car and…” Tina’s voice boomed. Janiyah stood at the top of the stairs, watching as Tina rushed into the house. She folded her arms.
“Oh, hey Niyah, where’s Miss. Bernice?”
“I sent her home.”
Tina sat her purse and keys on the counter. “You what?”
“She has a family too you know.”
Tina removed her jacket and put it on the coat rack by the door. “Bernice lives alone.”
“She volunteers at the nursing home. Just because she lives alone doesn’t mean she is alone.”
“Which is why I’m paying her extra. This is her job Janiyah. If she doesn’t like it, she can always quit.”
“I’m old enough to watch them you know.”
“Yes, I know but that’s not the arrangement. Those aren’t….”
“The rules. Got it.”
Tina stepped back and looked her niece up and down. This time she was the one folding her arms.
“Is there something you want to say to me?”
“Rules are in place for a reason. They help to keep order. This is my house, and these are my rules. Anyone who does not like it know what to do.”
Janiyah rolled her eyes. Tina ignored it.
She meant what she said. Her house. Her rules. They were not to be left home alone under any circumstances, especially now that Paschar’s legion was on the loose. Tina knew Niyah was old enough to understand but she couldn’t risk anyone else calling her crazy. She shook her head of the thoughts.
“Yea, Miss. Bernice made spaghetti.”
“Okay good. You won’t believe what happened to me today, I was in…”
“…come to think of it, Miss. Bernice pretty much does everything around here.”
“Janiyah, what is your problem this evening?”
Janiyah rolled her eyes and went upstairs.
Tina shook her head. Teenagers.
She walked into the kitchen and opened the door to the refrigerator. She grabbed a wine cooler and heard the door to Janiyah’s room slam closed.
Tina closed the door to her supervisor’s office behind her and was surprised to see Amy and Fred there. Fred was sitting in one of the two chairs in front of the desk and Amy stood next to Juan Emerson, her boss, a large manilla envelop in front of him. Tina folded her arms.
Juan cleared his throat and picked up the envelope. He was a handsome man. Cuban, butterscotch-colored skin, jet black hair, nicely shaped goatee around full lips, and a beautiful smile. He had come to America with his parents at just three years old and had worked hard to become one of the youngest Cuban supervisors in their unit. When teased about his common name he’d always give a brief history lesson.
“Juan is a Spanish version of John and is connected with Juan Almeida Bosque, the Cuban revolutionary. It means God’s gracious gift.”
People typically left him alone after that, not wanting to hear any more. With his Cuban heritage Juan was long-winded and could talk you to death, resurrect you and kill you again. He and Tina typically got along and had little friction except for now. Something was off about the energy in the room. But then again, Amy was there. Tina was sure it could have just been her.
Juan pointed to the available chair, “have a seat.”
Tina looked from Juan to Fred to Amy. Fred played with his hands and Amy looked away. Something was definitely up.
Tina sighed and sat in the chair. Juan’s office was one of the most comfortable in the building. The chairs were plush, and Juan stocked the bookshelves with the best literature. Juan’s collection was next level. Every book you can imagine existed was on his shelf from classics to new releases. Cuban authors, European authors, African American authors. He didn’t discriminate, and that’s what made his collection so fascinating and unique.
The man had range and the architecture of the bookshelf itself was immaculate, red oak lining the room all around. Tina paused to examine her surroundings, thinking of all the times they used to hide out in this office drinking whiskey and laughing back when he was a new detective. She even spent a night here one time when she was too wasted to drive home. It was that cozy but now, Tina didn’t feel comfortable. The energy in the room was stale, the bookshelves could have been a wall closing her in, and the chair may as well have been made of concrete.
“What is this about?” she whispered to Fred. But he just shrugged and looked forward.
Juan opened the envelope and removed three photos, spreading them faced down on the desk. Tina moved her chair closer to get a better look.
Juan responded by turning the pictures over, one at a time. Amy looked away and Tina’s hand rushed to her mouth.
“Oh my God.”
Three skeletal bodies in baggy clothing lay at a table, their eyeballs protruding from their sockets. It looked like something had sucked the fluid out of them and left skin and bones in oversized clothes.
Amy turned away from the office window and back toward the table, shaking her head.
“This is the El Che Steakhouse and Bar on Washington Blvd,” began Juan. “The waitress assigned to the table discovered the bodies. She said that she had taken the men’s orders and when she returned with their drinks, they were like this.”
“My goodness.” It would take a long time for her to get those images out of her head now.
“But that’s not even the weird part,” continued Juan. “This happened in broad daylight during normal business hours, but there are no witnesses to the actual murder if we can even call it murder. Customers say they saw nothing. Everyone remembers seeing the men enter the restaurant, but that’s all. They say they looked like normal men coming in to eat like the rest of them. One of them was even big-boned, you know, heavyset.”
Amy chuckled. People said Big Boned to keep from saying fat and she knew Juan was being extra sensitive around Fred who was on the heavy side himself. He was fat. Say that, she thought.
“But no one saw them suffering in any way.”
“That’s impossible. Someone had to see something,” Tina said touching each of the pictures.
Juan took a deep breath and Amy looked down at her feet.
Why are they acting like they were just caught kissing and I’m the mama?
“Come on ya’ll. What’s going on? You all know you can keep it real with me. I don’t like all this beating around the bush stuff.”
“I looked into Jason like you asked me to,” said Fred.
So, you do remember how to talk.
“I didn’t find anything, as you know.”
The mention of Jason’s name made Tina’s heart beat fast. “I know,” she said annoyed. They had already been over this.
“I did find he’s connected to these men though. Did you know that?”
Tina’s head jerked back, “Of course, I didn’t know.”
Fred sat up in his seat and leaned forward. “Here’s what I don’t get. You ask me to look into a man and not even two days later that man’s friends are dead?”
“Wait, you’re not saying I had anything to do with this?”
Fred sat back. “No, of course not.”
Tina stood. “Then what are you saying?”
“T, girl calm down.”
Tina looked at Amy. “Don’t tell me to calm down like you ain’t just hear him passively accuse me of having prior knowledge of these men’s murders. What are you doing here anyway?”
Juan held up a hand, “We don’t know if it’s a murder.”
“I’m here because Mr. Emerson asked me to be here, okay?”
Tina turned her attention back to Fred, torturing him with her eyes.
“Listen Tina, you’ve been through a lot and…” began Juan but Tina held up a hand.
“Don’t patronize me…”
“We wouldn’t want to do that. We just think you need a break is all.”
Juan pressed a button on the office phone and Tina stepped back at the voice coming through the speaker.
“You haven’t been to any sessions; you barely answer my calls. We’re worried about you T.”
Tina shook her head, trying to hold the anger back. It was Erica.
“You were listening the entire time? What is this, an intervention?”
“Can you tell us why you’ve been talking to yourself?” asked Amy.
“I don’t owe any of you an explanation.”
Juan cleared his throat again. “You kinda do.”
“This is bullshit.”
“Answer her question Tina,” said Fred, “what’s going on with you?”
Tina thought back to a bathroom conversation with Az. Amy had caught her talking with him there. She thought she explained that away. She knew it would come back to haunt her.
“I was just using the bathroom, give me a break.”
“No,” said Fred, “there’s another time. You were sitting in the car outside of the office, moving your hands and I don’t know if you were praying or…”
Tina waved. “Oh, come on. What I do in my car is my business.”
“I saw it with my own eyes, T,” chimed Amy. “You were sitting there talking to yourself. That’s twice now.”
“And,” added Erica, “you haven’t been to a session in like two weeks so I can’t even vouch for where your head is right now.”
“What’s the plan? Huh? You gonna fire me? Just come out and say what it is you brought me here to say.”
“How do you know Jason?” asked Juan.
“You told me before you think he may be connected,” said Fred pointing to the photographs “and now we see that he is connected. How did you know this?”
“First don’t say know this like I knew three black men were gonna die yesterday!”
“Yes, but you know what I’m talking about Tina. How did you know about Jason in the first place?”
Tina felt guilty. It did sound suspicious, but she couldn’t tell them about Az. She already told Erica about seeing aliens and here she was standing against her. She thought she believed her. She spoke to her as she did, even told her to get more information on humans who may be involved and now look at her. Tina felt like an idiot. Erica must have heard crazy stories like hers all the time and was probably just entertaining her.
Tina glanced at the photographs on Juan’s desk and shivered. She knew for a fact Pas was responsible but she couldn’t say that out loud. She looked up and into Juan’s face. “I had a hunch.”
“That’s some hunch T, come on,” said Fred.
“I don’t think I was talking to you.” Freddy was starting to piss her off.
“Hey, Erica? I’ll be in touch,” said Juan, hanging up the phone. He leaned back into his chair, picked up one of the photos, and then put it back down on the desk. It was hard to look at. Juan sighed and directed his attention to Fred and Amy. “Find the Waitress. Bring her in immediately, and T? Take some time off.”
“Time off meaning what? Are you firing me?”
“Tina, you know I wouldn’t do that. Paid time off. Get your head in the game.”
Tina rolled her eyes and walked out of the office.
Amy looked at Fred. “Well. That went well.”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into her. Ever since her nephew died, she hasn’t been the same,” said Fred.
Juan looked down at the photos and shook his head. He hated to suspect Tina of anything but that was some hunch.
“Keep an eye on her,” he said, his eyes still on the photographs. “I think she’s involved. I wanna know how and I wanna know why.”