Girl Justice by Bill Capron
Whisper me words in the shape of a bay
… write me a beacon so I’ll find the way – from Nostalgia, Emily Barker
It is seven p.m. on a Wednesday in early July, the first sunny day after a very wet spring. My girl, Rhonda, is finishing a long day of furniture shopping to remodel the living room. She is alone because I hate shopping. She checks her watch and sees she has an hour before she meets Deborah for supper. She sets down the briefcase with her files and scans the Day-Timer wondering if she’s done for the day. She’s an organized person; it’s second-nature to her to profitably consume the hour.
She hears a voice and lifts her head to see a cop approaching her with his gun raised, motioning her to duck. She hears the thunder of a shot behind her and the cop stops as if he’s hit a wall and crumbles to the ground. She turns; her eyes meet his, and she dies.
This scene plays out in my head like a movie trailer, over and over again; I’m the drunk reliving the car accident that killed his family and having more of the dog that bit him. I didn’t see it happen, but I produced the storyline from what I learned from the cops, from standing where she died, and from knowing my girl; the plot was infused with guilt. She was alone because I was such a butthead to shop with, because I get irritable, because I’m color-blind; but mostly because I was less than she needed when she needed me most.
I’m afraid I’ll never get over it; I’m more afraid that I will.
Chapter 1 – Tuesday – 6:30 a.m.
“CB, can I ask you a question?”
I’d been watching Lola May’s black lips. It was one of those fishing moments when I’ve been on the lake for twenty minutes and the first bite happens; it takes two seconds for my brain to record the fly disappearing and I snag empty air. That’s how long it took to catch up with her words. I raised my eyes four inches to her impossibly light eyes. “Sure.”
She wore a smile people have when they want to ask something important, but they don’t want you to know it’s important to them; it was a defensive smile. “This being color-blind, does it affect everything?”
“Probably less than your being black.”
She turned a shiny ebony hand to a pale palm. “Come on, I really want to know?”
My answer hadn’t been glib, but. “I don’t know. What were you thinking?”
“Like love. You and Becky. Is love different for you?”
I didn’t have a baseline for that. “How could I tell?”
“Has she said something?”
I’m less oblivious than the average man, but not like a woman. “You might ask her. It’s not like I’d have a clue.”
She gave knowing nod. “I might do that.”
The door dinged and a tall lawyer-type in a wet Burberry entered her coffee shop; she left me to make him a fat-free mocha-chino. He was ostensibly reading a Wall Street Journal folded over to the editorial page, but his eyes followed her, surreptitious and jealous; it’s not like he could do otherwise; it’s a joy to watch the woman move. Lola May’s beauty can stop your heart, but I’m used to her and I don’t usually see her that way.
The good-looking man tried to make conversation, be cool for the pretty woman. Lola May was responsive but aloof; she’s been hit on so often she’s immune.
I bent my head to smell my Americano. When I raised up I saw a new Lola May with skin tinted in a black tone I didn’t know existed and eyes that shone brightly in a flash that must be the green she said they were. But it was only Lola May, as if she were freshly painted on the duller background of my world; all else was as it should be, black and white and shades of gray. I blinked and it was gone, and I couldn’t call up a memory of the picture, only the memory that I’d seen it.
She took her chair again, ignoring whatever look it was on my face, and picked up where she left off. “This love, does anyone feel the same thing?”
I forced myself back on topic. “It’s hard to tell, what with having only language to describe it to anyone else. Words aren’t enough, I don’t think.”
She parted with a CB-like one-word question. “Still?”
I stated one of my tenets of life. “I don’t believe any one of us thinks the same way, Lola May; deep down we’re so different it’s like we’re different species.”
She ignored my deep insight for the meaningless esoteric psycho-babble half-thought that it was. “Still?”
“Is this going somewhere?”
Her hands were nervous on the table. “Sure.”
The light bulb went on. “Are you in love?”
Her response was tonelessly matter-of-fact. “I think so.”
I was surprised. “What, you’ve never been in love before?”
Her lips made a crooked smile as she shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
I never saw the woman confused before. It might be there were so many men in her past that she couldn’t tell about love, or she’d forgotten. It hadn’t occurred to me that she’d never felt it. “Want to tell me about it?”
She shook her head. “No, not yet, I’m a little scared.” She held her silence for almost a minute. “It’s too much like taking on a mortgage, know what I mean?”
I’d been there with Rhonda, and now Becky. “All I know is that after the first blush, love is as much about duty and loyalty as emotion.”
“Right now it’s hot and heavy.” She wiped her forehead. “I’m on fire.”
I tried unsuccessfully not to sound pedantic. “When the fire dies out, what’s hopefully left is love. The emotions go up and down, and even stop for short periods, but you make a commitment, and until it’s paid, you have to do right by it.”
“Yeah, like a mortgage.”
She continued, “Is that what you and Becky will have, a mortgage?”
I thought on our relationship; we hadn’t settled on a date yet, but that didn’t change the inevitability of it. We still had the fire, but after two years it was settling down to a warm glow of love. “I’ve made my down payment. She has my heart in every way a heart can be had.”
Lola May’s shoulders sagged a little. “I want to feel that way.”
“You can’t know without taking the first step.”
“It’s like stepping off a cliff, CB, and,” as if I didn’t know, “I’ve got a bad history.”
I played Mr. Dad. “That’s okay; you have got a good heart and a good head. You’ll get it right one day.”
She looked at the floor and turned her head to see me from down under. “You could have had me. That first time I saw you, like that movie, you had me at hello.”
“I didn’t say hello.”
I felt heat on my face. “I don’t have anyone at hello.”
It was ten-to-seven and the first of her two morning girls showed up. Lola May said hi, gave her some quick instructions and rang her into the register.
When she returned she stood next to her chair. “That’s your problem, CB, you don’t know women.”
“Nobody knows women.”
Without losing the original thread of the conversation, “So, you didn’t know?”
I didn’t miss a beat. “You’re not so easy to read, Ms. Carter.”
“Well you could have.”
She smiled; I smiled. I already loved Lola May for being Lola May; more than that was unnecessary and unwise.
The door opened to Becky Tomay, the woman I love. Her short dyed-black hair was plastered to her head; she gave it a quick dog-like shake and the hair flattened out with the water arcing away from her; she stepped across the threshold. She and Lola May get along all right, but there’s a physical tension between them. I didn’t know what it might be; I must be thick as a brick.
The two women nodded to each other. Lola May stands about five-nine, topping out at my lips. She’s well-shaped with skin so dark it absorbs the light and gray eyes and pure white teeth that flash in the dark. Becky stands about five-one and can’t kiss my chin without standing on her toes; at a hundred pounds she is nearly flat chested with pale white complexion and hair dyed as black and shiny as Lola May’s skin. Becky is not as beautiful as Lola May, but she’s prettier.
As Becky pulled out her chair, in came Denise Roberts, queen secretary of the law firm of WHO-ME; that is, Whitman, Howard, Ormand, Masters and Edmonds. She’s a little shorter than Lola May and a bit more built. She’s wanted me for a long time, between as well as during husbands, but she’s much too valuable a source for me to take advantage of whatever she’s offering. Now that she and Becky have become friends, she’s a bit more subdued; but that wouldn’t stop her if she got her hormones up. She tapped her umbrella and got my shoes wet.
These three women and two cop-ettes comprise the women of my life. No sooner did I have that thought than in they came, tall and thin and white-haired super-patrolwoman and soon-to-be detective, Diane Simpson, and already-detective, the short boyish wiry-haired Maureen McMartin. Diane dragged a table while McMartin grabbed two chairs. Lola May was the last to sit.
The five women had all crossed swords at times, yet they became friends. That said, the prime common ground they share is me.
I looked to Lola May who’d invited me the previous afternoon. My words in the form of a question were a day late. “This can’t be a coincidence?”
McMartin responded, “It’s Ms. Tomay’s fault.”
I joked, “All we need is Candy Candelosi.”
Diane bent her head to the table and turned it to face me. “She’s out of jail, CB.”
McMartin’s jaw dropped. “You don’t read the paper?”
“They’re not on my side.” Back to Diane, “You are kidding?”
Diane gave me the short version. “No. Judge sprung her almost a month ago. It seems her mother took the full blame for all those dead people, said that Candy didn’t know anything about it, that she was helping her old lady.”
I turned to the detective. “You know that’s not true.”
McMartin nodded. “As if that’s got anything to do with it.”
I thought on it. “That’s not enough to get her off.”
She opened her hands. “I think it was a favor owed the mother’s dead husband, that he’d saved the judge’s son from bankruptcy. It might be a rumor. Who knows?”
“No justice there.”
The detective, “Who’s selling justice?”
“Not the legal system.”
She went by my glib slur. “You won’t believe what she’s doing.”
The thought evanesced on to my lips. “She’s back on the crime beat for the paper.”
They all laughed.
“You got it,” the detective said.
I tried to mentally get a picture. “It’s not possible.”
McMartin hunched her shoulders. “It’s a stick in the eye to the cops, which is about what you’d expect.”
We weren’t there to discuss Candy, which in and of itself could consume an entire morning. “We’re here because?”
A bolt of lightning lit the room as Becky answered, “Rhonda.”
Rhonda was one of McMartin’s open homicide files; Rhonda was Becky’s predecessor; Rhonda was a woman I’d loved so long, I didn’t see other women. None of them ever met Rhonda; she’s dead over seven years. All they know of Rhonda is me, CB Green, a man who can’t see colors, but a man who knows a whole lot about the black and white of justice. And these women talk about me as if I were a lab rat, except for Detective McMartin; she doesn’t really share me, doesn’t like me, doesn’t trust my idea of justice, but she’s given a piece of her heart to Rhonda’s file.
Lola May said, “Becky told us about Rhonda, about the bullet, about the cop that was killed too. She said something important happened last week.” She put her eyes on McMartin. “She said the killer might have been …”
McMartin finished it. “… a cop.”
I was dumbfounded, by them, not the fact. “And?”
Becky answered, “We can help catch the guy.”
I didn’t much care for where this was going. “We who?”
Becky took in the table with a wave of her hand, and, as if on cue, lightning lit the room again. “We five.”
I looked to McMartin who shrugged; she didn’t look happy. Thunder shook the windows. I put my eyes on Becky who was staring at the tablecloth; she nudged Denise with a sharp elbow in the ribs.
Denise was more serious than I could recall. “We know a lot of stuff, CB, and a lot of people in the legal world.” She eyed Lola May. “Both sides of it.”
There are more than two sides. I brought my gaze to McMartin’s grays. “I don’t need help. I’ve got the police.”
Denise intruded. “We’re the reinforcements. The detective says her captain doesn’t think much of her idea about a cop, and he’s not going to invest any resources. We said we’d be her resources. It’s that simple.”
Denise again, “Now we’re going to set up our lines of communication.”
I went back to McMartin. “You’re going along with this?”
This off-the-grid approach went against McMartin’s grain, but she didn’t flinch. “I want this guy.”
I hit the table. “Not as much as I do.”
Lola May said, “See, CB, you don’t know women.”
So I kept my mouth shut and listened while they exchanged cell-phone numbers and McMartin brought them up to date with the short version; it was no less informative than the long version. Rhonda Welles stood on a street corner perusing her schedule while a robbery was taking place downtown. An alarm sounded as the man came out of the jewelry store where he’d killed the owner. A cop approached from the west and she was between the two men. From witnesses the cops knew the first shot killed the cop, the next took her down. He walked by both of them; Rhonda was already dead; he shot the cop again in the head. My love was collateral damage up until a week ago.
Since her murder, bullets from the mis-grooved nine-millimeter had killed four others in various robberies, the last six days ago; but it took two shots to bring the man down, a week apart. The dead man was a low-life convenience-store clerk who survived the first attack when the bullet passed through his chest without hitting anything vital; McMartin was sure he’d recognized the shooter. Then the clerk ran from the cops and the killer. We tracked him through his credit card and were ready to reel him in when he was shot dead for real. The detective figured the killer was following the credit card too, possibly even from the notes on her desk. That made him a cop, and it might explain why he would shoot a cop who recognized him; but why shoot the love of my life?
Full circle back to love. It’s what Lola May wanted, what I’d had for so long, and what I had again with Becky. Rhonda and I were a forever thing until forever ended in a pool of blood on that street corner. Now it’s a lot like unrequited love, it can’t ever go away. Her death is why I became a private investigator, and why I look for justice. Rhonda is the first face on my screen saver waiting for me to make justice happen. It’s only a matter of time.
Becky understands the obsession with Rhonda, but it gets in the way sometimes. She knows I need closure, whatever that means; and what it means is different to me than to her. I want revenge, not for what might have been for me, but for the future Rhonda never got to live. I want justice. I think only McMartin has an inkling of what I want, and it scares her.
I was feeling like the odd man out. “And I’m here because?”
Denise said, “So you know what we’re doing and don’t get in our way.”
This was followed by a course of ‘Amens’. The women departed without shaking hands.
Lola May made me an Americano and pulled a chair next to mine. She put a black hand on my arm and stared at the downpour as she spoke. “You are the most loved man I know.” She kissed my cheek and returned to the counter.
I walked the three blocks from Lola May’s swanky 23rd Avenue Northwest storefront to my swanky 25th Avenue Northwest office. I kept the coffee under my jacket as the rain pounded my head; it was too hot to drink when I got there, but that was the least of my problems.
There she was; dyed-white hair, carnivorous, sleek and fast, hard as nails, meaner than a junkyard dog; Candy Candelosi. How was it she was free and back on the paper? That had to be her special lip service; did she keep records and pictures? Who’s to know, but her new status as ex-con might make her all the more valuable in dealing with criminals and police. And the woman has a nose for ink.
I asked, “What, it doesn’t rain on you?”
She was dry; her coat was dry. “I’ve been here a while.”
She ran her hands along the wood of the chair; her eyes took in the small porch. “I’m getting a feel of the man. I forgot to do that the last time around.”
I made a gun with my left hand and cocked a double-jointed thumb. “You would have plugged me right away?”
She gave me a leer. “No, I’d have kidnapped you and kept you in my closet.”
I unlocked the door and stood aside for her to enter. I wrinkled my nose at the smell of cigarettes. She took my coffee and said thanks. She sashayed her hips like she thought I was watching.
“It wasn’t until this morning that I heard you got out,” I said to her back.
She waited for me to sit. “I heard the bullet is back.”
I don’t know how she knows these things. I waited.
She sat very upright. “Cops don’t want to know, you know?”
I stated the obvious. “He killed a cop.”
She pursed her lips. “Yeah, you’re right; competing forces at work there.”
I didn’t agree with her. “They’ll find him.”
She shook her head. “Nobody is going to help carry McMartin’s water.”
“And you know this from?”
She licked her finger suggestively and pointed up. “It’s in the air, CB.”
If McMartin hadn’t stopped her, she’d have finished my future in a storage unit in Southeast Portland; however strange, she’d earned the right to call me CB. “What air?”
“The air I’m breathing. Free air.” She sniffed her nose, crinkling it like a dog. “News is there for the knowing.”
She arranged herself in the chair. Her skirts had gotten shorter; she crossed her legs. “Like I learned more about you in prison than out. You’ve left a pretty big wake, and they don’t all hate you either.”
She pointed her thumb between her breasts. “Like me, I don’t hate you; could even learn to like you.”
The rain banged against the windows. “And?”
She made another nebulous reference to sources. “And lawyers. What they won’t tell me to get on my good side.”
“You’ve got a good side?”
She scratched her lower lip while she talked. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”
I moved up to the light eyes and the dark roots I’d thought were black, a mistake that almost cost me my life. I was revisited by my first impression of her, pretty and predatory. I said, “Tell me about the bullet.”
“You tell me.”
I held my hands up. “Hey, I’m not a source. Why don’t you drop the whole thing?”
“Not a chance. I’ll watch your girls.”
She smiled showing her small sharp teeth. “You know, all those girls who love you, especially McMartin. And she’s a cop, so it’s easy to track her.”
I skipped right by the McMartin loving me part. “How so?”
She thumbed the corner of her notebook. “Paper trail. Cops leave paper trails. McMartin is a thorough detective, works by the book. So I know everything she knows.”
“I should tell her.”
Candy laughed; it was a pretty sound. “Wouldn’t do any good. She is who she is and she’s not going to change.”
I repeated myself. “So tell me about the bullet.”
She stood, leaned over the desk and pinched my cheek. “I’m not in the information giving business. And don’t you worry, when you nail the guy, I’ll be right there.”
“Not if I can help it.”
She parted with a knowing smile. “You can’t.” There was a roll of meaningful thunder.
I heard what wasn’t there. “What happened to the Valley speak?”
She frowned at a memory I’d never know. “It didn’t go over so well in prison.” She mulled over the thought before it hit her lips. “Wait til I start spouting Ebonics to you.”
I laughed. “I can’t hardly wait.”
With a final look she took in the room; her eyes stopped at the large Remington bronze in the corner. “That for real?”
There was a bit of awe in her voice. “What did it cost?”
It cost too many lives, almost mine. “It was a gift.” A twice-given blood-spattered gift.
She shook her head while chewing her nail. “It’s gotta be worth half a million.”
She winked. “Still doing good works, eh?”
I got in a dig. “It used to belong to your family.”
That stopped her for a moment. “So you’ll leave it to me in your will.”
Candy pulled the door shut behind her.
So what was I thinking about? Rhonda? The girls? Candy? Justice? No. I was thinking about color. In Lola May’s shop was the second time this seeing color had happened to me. The first was in a bar a couple months ago when the lights went out and lightning lit the room; McMartin, Simpson and Dennis Doyle stood out in hues both new and unimaginable. Unimaginable to me because, like with Lola May, I know what I saw, but I can’t bring it up again, as if I don’t have the means to store it.
Three months ago a psychologist from my college days, David Welles, ran tests on my eyes using the latest state-of-the-art technology which hadn’t existed twenty-seven years ago. He wanted to know after all these years why I was so different from the typical guy who can’t see color, and he wanted to prove his assertion at the time. The good doctor said my color-blindness was psychological, not neurological, that my eyes saw color fine, but my brain turned it to black and white, albeit not perfectly. He said he could teach me to see color like everyone else.
Everyone else! Now there was a scary thought. It’s that difference that makes me special, that I need to search for the shape of the robin rather than simply picking it out by the color; it makes me look deeper while it strips away the confusing noise of color. My world is duller but more informative. See color? I don’t want it. I told him that. He was okay with my decision, but it seems color might be in my future whether I want it or not.
A bolt of lightning lit my room, followed immediately by a deafening roar of thunder. I wasn’t ready to see color yet.