The Last Time
Up from Tupelo
It was freezing and windy outside, only twenty-six degrees in November, 2015, when attorney Jennifer Marie Brown’s Uncle Ross finally arrived at her West 141st Street Manhattan brownstone. After watching and waiting for him all morning, her face lit up, shedding all signs of worry. Knowing he was carrying a burden, the bad news he had to deliver personally, for just one moment, she could smile. She watched him take his usual long strides up the front steps, scaling them two at a time. There weren't many things that could get Ross to come to New York in the cold. Especially since he'd finally opened a Facebook account, and had learned to text and email her to find out how she was doing. For him to be here, now, meant the news he had was bad, indeed. So bad he felt he needed to be near her, to comfort her, after transporting it all the way up to New York City, from Tupelo, Mississippi.
Now on his twentieth visit to New York, it took a while for forty-nine year-old Ross Brown to thaw out, even though it was toasty warm inside Jenny's spacious third-floor apartment. Not used to icy cold weather in what he still saw as an icy cold city, he still had his coat and gloves on several minutes after he'd gotten inside. He just did not feel the warmth that Jenny had found here, even while standing in front of the roaring fire she had going in the fireplace. She knew he'd be complaining about the cold, incessantly, once he got to her place, and he was sure she'd prepared the fire just for him.
Jenny watched her uncle huffing and blowing on his rugged hands while rubbing them together between holding them close to the flames. Sweat was forming on his brow, so she knew he wasn't still cold. Not physically. He was searching for the right words. Words that, obviously, were taking their time coming. After finally admitting he'd warmed up, Ross began shedding his coat and scarf as he delivered the awful news. It was hard for him. Witnessing his niece's shock, her frozen stance told him Jenny didn't know how to respond to what he'd told her. He walked away from the fire and began staring out through the same floor-to-ceiling living room windows where Jenny had been fifteen minutes earlier.
“I know you didn’t know her,” he said. "That's how she wanted it." He looked up at the sky. There wasn't a cloud in sight, but he couldn't stop them from forming in his voice. “But when somebody goes out like that," he said, "in such a shocking, brutal, and coldblooded way . . . like she did. Well. I thought it was best for me to come up here . . . to tell you in person.” He turned around and looked at his niece. “You already know I never liked her," he said. "But that's been all over and done with. Years ago. And even when I hated her, I never wanted nothing like this to happen to her. She . . . she had some goodness in her. See. I learned that, even though I never said it before. When she gave yo’ daddy full custody of you? Well. That's when I knew. She really loved you. You know. In her own way.”
For a long minute, Jenny sat staring at her hands on her lap. It was final now. She'd never get the chance she'd always wanted. The harsh meaning of her uncle's message became more and more real to her, and she knew what was coming next. The look on Ross's face told her there was more he had to say, but she decided to wait. She'd let him do the asking.
“Maybe I could have loved her too.” She rose and walked over to stand next to her uncle. Towering over her at six-feet-four and 185 pounds, he scooped up all five-feet-four inches of her 120-pound small frame into a bear hug. It never failed to surprise her how the man who looked exactly like her father always made her feel like she was still four years old, still living in Tupelo. “But . . . I just never knew her," she said. "I wish she had given me a chance to know her." When Ross finally released her, she went and sat down in her favorite spot on her berry-colored leather living-room sofa, her first piece of real furniture, a law-school graduation gift from her dad. Sitting there usually made her feel better no matter what was going on in her life, but today, the sofa's magic wasn't working. She looked down and started picking at one of the frayed areas on the right knee of her brand new blue jeans. “I respected her," she said. "Even when I got old enough, and Grandma finally told me the whole story. In spite of everything I knew, I respected her. Because she was the woman who gave me life.”
Ross looked and felt out of place, every time he visited Harlem. His brother’s expensive brownstone building had never and would never feel like home to him. It still amazed him that his seventy-seven year-old, still youthful-looking-and-acting mother, and his twenty-nine year-old niece lived there. He couldn't believe they didn't feel out of place living in separate 3,000 square-foot apartments, with private terraces, private gardens, and private backyards. His brother had made sure Queenette and Jenny were surrounded by and encapsulated inside store-bought elegance—what Ross saw as his twin's way of showing love. Still, it would always be nearly impossible for him to accept that his mother and his niece actually moved away from Tupelo, ten years ago, to live in New York City. Even though they were in a prime residential neighborhood, he'd never get used to it. Shaking his head while mumbling to himself, he uttered the same words that always came to mind whenever he visited. "I can't believe two Mississippi country-bred women like them could actually like living here, in all this," he said, "on the Upper Manhattan side of New York City."
He turned around and looked his beautiful niece in the eyes.
“I’ll go,” she said, still waiting for what she knew was coming. “I'll go to the home-going out of respect. Even though her family has never included me in their family, I’ll go. Out of respect, and because you asked me to go. But . . . I’ll have to think long and hard, if the Chief asks . . . what we both know he's probably going to ask. I’ll have to think . . . long and hard . . . about helping him again. Even now.” She had unlocked the door for Uncle Ross. Now all he needed to do was to turn the knob, and walk in.
“He’ll have to ask you this time,” Ross said, looking up at the sky. “He wanted me to do it, but I said 'no.' I told him he'd have to do his own dirty work this time. Then I told him this was the last time I was coming up here in the cold to do anything."
Fried Chicken and Memories
Jenny called her grandmother with the news. As usual, nothing shocking ever was able to shock Queenette Brown. "Uh huh," was all she said when Jenny replayed to her the news Ross had brought up from Tupelo. "I'm sorry to hear it," she said. "Real sorry to hear such a thing could happen. To anybody." Jenny felt better after telling her Grandma the news. She didn't know why doing that had made her feel better, but it had. When she warned Queenette that her other son was still grumbling about them living in New York, and was on his way up, Queenette just laughed. “He’ll stop grumbling once he starts smelling this fried chicken I'm making. I promised him I'd cook his favorite supper for lunch, and I already got it started. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and iced tea. You come on up too, baby, okay? Round noon."
"When I talked to him last night, he said he had some news he was bringing in person. We both know what that usually means. You know what he got to ask you."
"I know, but he didn't ask. Said he told the Chief 'no' this time."
"Oh yeah? Well, he told me on the phone last night this was his last time coming to ‘visit country folk who don’t belong in this big old cold city.' But saying 'last time' don't always mean last time. When he gets here? Won't be easy to tell him I already invited his family up for Christmas, and his wife already said ‘yes.’” She laughed. "Wish I'd told you to tell him that for me!"
“Nah. Your second-born twin needs to hear that from you. Bye, Grandma.”
Jenny was sure her Uncle Ross had been perpetually irritated since, at age ten, Queenette told him he was born two minutes after his brother, Malcolm. He'd calm down, she thought, after lunch, no matter what surprise was waiting for him at his mother's apartment. A good meal always made him feel better, and nobody could make better fried chicken than Queenette Brown. Not even the Colonel.
Tears kept stinging at her eyes as she spent the next several minutes putting the finishing touches on a real-estate related prospectus she'd drafted for her dad. He was looking into yet another property acquisition, and Jenny was in-house counsel for his growing medical practice. She worked from home most days, even though she ran a legal practice of her own that occupied a whole floor inside her father's Manhattan medical building. After placing the finished document inside her work attaché case, she allowed the tears to come as long as she felt like crying. A few minutes later, she called her boyfriend to tell him everything her uncle told her.
Enveloped inside and feeling crushed by a strange form of sadness, she stretched out on the berry sofa to try to jump-start its magic while allowing Ethan's words of comfort to soak into her spirit. Her world was making even less sense than usual. She was in deep mourning for a woman she never knew, and had never met. One day, she thought, one day soon she would have to tell Ethan the whole crazy-weird story of her life, because the relationship they had seemed to hold a spark of promise. A twelve-year NYC transplant from Texas, Ethan, a software engineer, was smart, funny, and understanding. He hadn't had an easy life either, and having that in common had helped them both. They'd been together for five months, and she knew the ultimate test of where they were headed would be his reaction to learning her deepest and darkest secret. The thing that usually ushered in the beginning of the end for every romantic relationship she'd ever had.
Taking a deep breath, Jenny allowed her mind to take her back twenty-five years—to the day she first met the Chief. She and her grandmother were still living in Tupelo, and her then twenty-five year-old Uncle Ross was still living with his mother. He was her hero, mainly because he was the only man in her life who showed his love for her every day. But it was also because he drove a big, shiny red truck, back and forth, day-after-day, from Mississippi to Tennessee.
Many evenings when Ross got home, he’d lift four-year-old Jenny high up into the air and would say something like, “Lil Jen,” I'm glad you like my truck. I like it too. But I wouldn’t want you to ever drive a big truck like this. Know why?" It would be time for the rhyme the two of them said together, where Jenny would chime in to help him answer his own question. "It makes you smell real bad, makes your mama really mad, with smelly diesel on your skin, you have to shower again and again!" They'd hug while laughing together, then Ross would undoubtedly say, "But for me? Aw, it ain’t so bad. I'm home every day, and I make good money too. So I'm ma' keep on doing it." Some days he'd add, "So when Mama starts fussing at me ‘bout driving this truck, and she will. I'll just wink at you, because you and me? We have an understanding 'bout it. Okay?”
Back then, Queenette Brown hardly ever let a day pass without telling her son she wanted more for him. That’s why he came home every day defending his career. His mother wanted him to be more ambitious—more like his twin brother, Malcolm. Hardly ever home, Jenny’s dad was away, in Manhattan, completing his residency for medical school. In another year, he would become the full-fledged primary-care doctor that he was today.
Her "Seeing" Power
The day Jenny first met the Chief was on one of those days. The first time she realized she had “seeing powers” was on the day she first met the Chief. Before Uncle Ross got home that day, she’d “seen” and heard loud footsteps pounding on the big gray planks of the front porch. Only she wasn’t looking out at the porch when she saw what she saw. Although she was only four years old, she knew what she’d seen and heard was going to happen. Later. She didn't know how she knew. She just knew. The man’s legs, his blue pants, his shiny mouth, and his brown shoes with money on them were coming to the front door, just not right away. The seeing came to her like pictures. Jenny had a camera and had learned how to take pictures when she was just three-and-a-half. Somehow, she knew the pictures that kept coming into her head weren't really pictures.
She yelled from the living room to the kitchen. “You gonna have to go to the front door, Grandma, in a while! A black man with a shiny mouth is coming to your door, wearing blue pants and brown shoes with money on top!”
Queenette stopped chopping lettuce only for a minute. She was making a green salad—with lettuce, cucumbers and avocados, to go along with food that had the house smelling like home—fried chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, corn bread and collard greens, with little crispy pieces of bacon on the bottom of the pot. She smiled. "Lord, that child. Way to smart for her age! A black man with a shiny mouth, and brown shoes with money on top?” She laughed out loud as she kept working. Whenever she was in the kitchen cooking, she didn’t like any interruptions. “You go to the door for me, okay, Jenny May? Ask who it is, then come tell Grandma.”
Jenny yelled toward the kitchen, again. “He’s not there, Grandma! Not yet!”
Her Doll, Miss Livingston
Jenny was glad the man wouldn’t be at the door for a while because she was busy braiding Miss Livingston’s silky blonde hair. That doll had long, curly hair, just like the lady’s hair. She would never forget the pretty white lady that visited her and her grandmother that one time. A few days after the lady left, Grandma gave her the doll and said Miss Livingston had come to live with them. Forever. Jenny loved Miss Livingston and thought she always looked beautiful in her long, flowing, pink organza ball gown. For as long as Jenny could remember, Miss Livingston had stood on top of Grandma Queenette’s upright mahogany piano. They were a team—the doll and the piano. Together, the two of them were the centerpiece of the pink-walled living room, and Jenny loved them both. The piano, because her grandmother was teaching her how to play it. And Miss Livingston, because that doll seemed to want nothing more out of life but to keep watch over her grandmother’s treasured piano.
Miss Livingston belonged there. She was part of the room, and her dress matched the big, beautiful living room couch. It had big pink and violet flowers all over it, on a beige background. Jenny felt like she was sitting in a lovely garden whenever her grandmother gave her permission to sit there so that she could braid Miss Livingston’s hair. A very difficult task, as soon as she plaited a plait, it would un-plait, all by itself. Like magic. Jenny was glad her hair didn’t do that. Once her grandmother plaited her two big brown plaits that traveled all the way down to her waist, they stayed plaited for days—until grandma found the time she said she needed to “comb so much hair again.” But today, her grandmother had given her two small red rubber bands, so this time Miss Livingston’s plaits were going to stay plaited too.
Uncle Ross got home from work and had just finished his second helping of peach cobbler desert when the man’s legs and shoes started pounding on the porch, making planks squeak and squawk all the way to the front door.
The Man in the Money Shoes: Leroy Geiger
It was Uncle Ross who had gone to the door that evening, and the suppertime visitor turned out to be Leroy Geiger. He was the thirty-five year-old son of one Grandma Queenette's neighbors. Grandma had once run her own in-home after-school and daycare business, and Leroy Geiger was one of the children she’d kept every day. From the time he was born, while his mother worked, he went to Grandma Queenette’s daycare or after-school care, until he was seventeen. The man wearing the money shoes was eating peach cobbler as he explained to Jenny who he was. He said he was a police man, and that he lived in Memphis, Tennessee. He said he loved Queenette Brown, and thought of her as his second mother. She had taken care of him, he said, all the days of his youth, because his mother had to go to work every day. He talked about how he’d been working real hard lately, and hadn’t been home to see his Tupelo family in three years. Then he told Jenny the last time he’d seen her she was drinking all her meals from a pink baby bottle. Jenny laughed as she decided she liked the man who said he would be honored if she would call him "Uncle Leroy." Tall and skinny, he had a gold tooth that sparkled whenever he smiled, and he seemed to know how to dress real nice. To go with the nice brown shirt he had on, Leroy Geiger had on dark blue pants and shiny brown penny loafers—with pennies in the slots.
At age twenty-nine, Jenny hated her "gift,” and hadn’t used it in a few years. “Seeing” is what her grandmother called her abilities, and her Uncle Ross had come to New York to give her fair warning she would soon be asked to use the seeing again.
Only half black, Jenny's white half wasn’t as visible. She’d never had any contact with any of her white relatives, so she thought of herself as being one-hundred percent black. And even though she'd heard about other black psychics, she'd never heard about any other black ones who helped police solve crimes.
When she was little, the 'seeing” wasn’t so bad. Back then, she only saw good things. Then, once she grew up, all she could see was bad stuff—murders, killing, and horrible things. That’s when she and her grandmother started praying every day, begging God to take away her “gift,” forever.
She'd done all she could to make it go away. She’d left the place where it all started. Made a big move to get far away from Tupelo as she tried to put the seeing in her past. When she turned nineteen, with help from her father and stepmother, she’d transferred from Tennessee State to NYU. In addition to owning a growing medical practice in Manhattan, Malcolm Brown also owned a seven-million-dollar brownstone. Prime rental property, and it had separate apartments for them all: One for her dad, his wife and their ten-year-old twin boys; one for Jenny, and one for Grandma Queenette. Although she loved living in her hometown of Tupelo, Queenette Brown loved Jenny more. So, after her girl moved to New York, Queenette decided to move there too.
Jenny and her grandmother needed each other, and they both needed to live somewhere where no one knew Jenny could see. They believed the same thing too: that seeing was communing with demons. It was why God gave Jenny headaches when she saw bad stuff. Whenever she condemned the seeing, Queenette Brown quoted biblical scripture, especially 2 Corinthians, verses 11:14-15. It was the devil, she said, helping the police solve crimes. Even though God sometimes used bad things for good, it was the devil’s demons who caused the seeing—themselves proof of life after death. They existed to deceive people into using powers God declared, through Holy Scripture, to be abhorrent to him.
Jenny went home to attend the funeral she had to attend out of respect. Once it was over, just as her Uncle Ross warned, the Chief asked her to help him find a killer.
Leroy Geiger had been a big part of the reason Jenny and Queenette had left Tupelo. Almost a member of the Brown family, he’d asked, and she’d helped him solve crimes many times, before and after moving away. That’s why he knew she could help him find the madman—the guy that had eluded capture for a year, by the FBI, and by police in Birmingham and Memphis.
She couldn’t think of anything she didn’t want to do more—but this time, she had no choice. If ever there was a time when she had to help the police solve a crime, this was that time. Not just because of who was asking her to "see" again. It was because the lunatic, the madman serial killer, had murdered the woman who gave her life.
The Woman Who Gave Her Life
Jessica Marie Stone knew she shouldn’t have been working. Everyone knew a madman was on the loose in Tupelo. But when a handsome man said he was lonely and needed a date, she thought he looked too “tamed” and too rich to be anything other than what he appeared to be: a really good guy wanting to do a really bad thing. She figured he probably had two-point-five kids and a wife at home, a dog named “Spot,” and cat named “Puff.” But that night, he was cute and he was in the bar where she was working. He seemed to like her, and even seemed to be trying to impress her as he ordered drink after drink, for both of them.
Jessica didn’t care for the strong taste of alcohol, so it took the sweetness of three strawberry daiquiris to hide the fiery, burnt caramel taste of all the rum she needed that night to numb her conscience. “You seem sad,” she whispered. “But tonight? I’ll help you forget all your sorrows.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” he said.
He reminded her of a young Elvis, so when he asked if she would spend the night with him, she said, “Sure.” He looked harmless in his expensive, designer black suit, maroon tie, and gold-rimmed Harry Potter glasses. Jessica decided he was harmless. Then she decided to pretend she wasn’t what she was, and that the man with her—in the dark, in one of the seediest hotel bars in Tupelo, was young Elvis.
When she told him who he reminded her of, he smiled before taking another sip of his third whisky sour. Then he whispered in her ear, “Baby, when I’m done lovin’ you tender? You’ll never want to be with another man.”
It was the wee hours of the morning when the lull arrived in the bar, when Jessica followed Elvis to the elevator. She spent the whole night pretending, and the next morning, after she took care of Elvis one last time, he took care of her. The strong, metallic odor of blood was the last thing she smelled. Lying on the bed with life leaving her for good, her last thought was of her little girl. Jenny Marie was a successful corporate attorney, living a good life in New York City. Her child would never have to wonder if a “milk toast” looking white guy who picked her up in a bar for a paid one-night stand was a crazed lunatic who would slit her throat.
Jessica Marie left home the day she turned eighteen. Always rebellious, after her parents told her they wouldn’t pay for her to go college unless she stopped dating her black boyfriend, she'd moved out to get away from them. When they said she was only dating Malcolm Brown to shame them, she knew they were right. And that's exactly what she intended to keep on doing.
Malcolm went away to Vanderbilt University, and she was lonely without him. So, to support herself while having fun, she started moving in the fast lane with some of her fastest friends. All girls her age, when they told her how they made a very good living by going out on “dates” with very wealthy men in Tupelo and Memphis, before long, she was doing the same thing. She was “living the life” with her friends; hiding it from anyone who would disapprove. Once she started doing the drugs and booze that came with living the life, she started believing she was smart enough to fool her man and her parents. She told Malcolm her parents were paying for her apartment, and she told her parents Malcolm was paying for it. Not only did she fool them, she fooled herself too, because she told herself that she’d get out of the life one day and go to college.
Soon, on the verge of having the life she’d always dreamed of having, Jessica got pregnant, on purpose. Malcolm was finishing his last year of premed and would soon be completing his medical degree at Vanderbilt. Marrying him was going to show her parents how wrong they’d always been about her and her choices. Only things didn’t work out the way she'd planned. Malcolm changed his mind about Vanderbilt and decided to complete his medical studies at Meharry Medical College. Jessica couldn’t understand his decision. A medical degree from Meharry would mean nothing to her parents, while one from Vanderbilt would have the “stinging power” she needed to toss all their disapproval of her right back in their racist, smug, so-called Christian faces.
“Who does that?” she asked Malcolm, speaking to him out of anger one night on the phone. “I’ve never heard of anybody graduating from premed, valedictorian of his class at a prestigious white university, then choosing to go to a black college for medical school. I’ve never heard of that! You think you going to Meharry to become a doctor is going to make my parents see how wrong they've been about me?”
Malcolm breathed hard, then asked, calmly, if she wanted to hear all the things he’d heard lately—about her. After that, he said she was right. There was a lot she’d never heard of and would never learn or respect, about him and about his heritage. Finally, he told her he wasn't going to medical school to help her get back at her parents. After that, Jessica knew she’d lost him forever.
Just when Chief Leroy Geiger had his mind set on retiring, Tupelo had become one of the targeted towns of a sociopath, a serial killer. The Chief was now obsessed with finding the madman—before he could strike again. Only the killer was obsessed too. Fixated on women who “sold themselves” for a living, his pattern said he was picking his victims by race, and people had nicknamed him “The EEO Killer.” His signature had been used to kill four Hispanic female prostitutes in Memphis; four black ones in Birmingham, and now, three white ones in Tupelo. Chief Leroy and the FBI, along with police in Memphis and Birmingham, believed it meant he was soon going to kill another white female prostitute in Tupelo.
Far too thin for his large frame—from too many days of replacing his meals with work, at six-feet-one and 165-pounds, Chief Geiger didn’t intend to allow the fourth murder to happen. Not on his watch. His plan was to stop all the bloody killing of these women before his sixty-first birthday, which was only months away. He knew it was entirely possible that he could do it, but only if he could use something he had that none of the other police departments, nor the FBI, had. It was the same thing that had helped him achieve a lot of the success he’d had over the years when he worked as a detective. It was the compassionate heart, the undying love, and the always accurate powers of his “play niece,” Queenette Brown’s little seeing girl.
Utterly worn out from the heaviness of the burden he was carrying, the Chief ran both his hands through his tightly curled graying hair before securely locking his fingers together underneath his chin. He looked up at the ceiling, said his one-hundredth prayer for his case, then breathed out a hard grunt before staring straight ahead. That’s when he saw before him a beautiful caramel-colored angel with long brown hair falling softly around her shoulders and down her back. He wanted to believe his eyes, but what he saw was just too good to be true. As she stood in the doorway staring at him, he looked up and said a silent “Thank you,” to God.
Jenny Marie Brown hadn’t said a word, but he knew she had come to help him. Again. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know you left Tupelo so you could stop the headaches that come with helping me. And I know I promised you I’d stop asking you to help.”
“Don’t,” Jenny said. “Uncle Leroy, it’s okay. This time? It’s okay.” She took her camera from her pocket and started taking pictures of the Chief.
“You sure?” He was used to Jenny-the-Photographer, so he ignored the fact that she was taking pictures. He was still pinching his arm, trying to make sure he hadn't fallen asleep at his desk and dreamed her up.
“I’m sure," she said. "I mean. She was . . . my mother. And it is the last time I'll ever do this. So it’s okay, Chief. It's the last time. And it's okay.”
“Then where the hell is my darn hug?”
The Chief was glad to see the finality in Jenny’s eyes. He wanted this to be the last time too. “Did Ross convince you to help me?” he asked.
“No. He came up to New York City to see me and Grandma in twenty-six-degree weather. That spoke volumes.” She snapped one last shot, then put her camera away.
Leaning back in his chair laughing, the Chief wiped tears from the corners of his eyes. “Oh,” he said, recovering. “I guess they knew you'd be here today, because your Uncle Ross’s wife, your Aunt Tiana, stopped by, before the funeral. She left something here for you."
“Yeah. I told him I needed something my mother had touched. I never knew her. So I never had anything of hers. He said he had something, and that he would ask Aunt Tee to bring it to you, for me.”
The Chief handed her a note before pulling a large brown paper bag from the bottom drawer of a file cabinet. The note, from her Uncle Ross, said: ‘We never told you who gave you this, but this is something that once belonged to your mother.’”
After reading the note, what the Chief pulled from the bag made Jenny smile. She pulled her camera from her pocket once more. She had to get one last shot to memorialize what she knew, without a doubt, would help ensure the success of the last time.
The Last Time
The highways and streets Jenny saw in her mind, as they were riding in the Chief’s car, took them to one of the town’s seedier areas. Still holding what Uncle Ross found for her, that Aunt Tee delivered, Jenny and the Chief finally arrived at a not-so-nice hotel. The pictures that popped into her head showed her, instantly as they parked, this was definitely the right place. When they sat down inside at table in a sparsely populated area, the Chief ordered coffee for them both as Jenny placed Miss Livingston firmly on her lap. She was holding on tightly to the doll when the images started to rush into her mind, overflowing and pushing everything else to the side, making her head hurt. She closed her eyes, tight, so she could push away the pain. “The man is white,” she said. "My mother is saying he has jet black, curly hair, and . . . she thinks he looks like Elvis. He’s wearing a dark suit and tie, and doesn’t look like a killer. He’s wearing glasses. The Harry Potter kind. And . . . now, now I’m getting a stupid headache. A bad one.”
The Chief took her hand in his. “Then let’s stop.”
“No. Not yet. Chief?”
"I can see her. She looked like a young, slim, naturally beautiful blonde-haired-blue-eyed Marilyn Monroe. She was still as beautiful as she was that day . . . when she brought me Miss Livingston. Only then, I didn't know she was my mother, and I didn't know she had given my Grandma this doll to give to me. See, Grandma never found the right time to tell me who the beautiful lady was. I guess she didn't want me to be sad because my mother never visited me again. I know that's why she didn't tell me who gave me Miss Livingston. She couldn't explain why a total stranger would be giving me a present, for no reason."
“Marilyn Monroe and Elvis," he said, unable to force a smile. "She was extremely beautiful, your mother." Seeing a little girl who wanted, so desperately, to know a mother she'd never get to know, so much that she would put herself through all this, Leroy's throat filled up. He blinked hard to keep tears from forming as he turned his face away from her, to keep her pain from becoming his. "She got in . . . trouble, a few times, over the years," he said. "Still had her looks the last time I saw her." He used a napkin to swipe at his eyes, then dried his sweaty forehead before turning back to Jenny. Now displaying his chiseled-in-stone detective composure, he said, "So, we’re looking for a white male who looks a little like Elvis, wears Harry Potter style glasses, and goes after the most beautiful 'working girl' he can find, in dark seedy bars?”
“She said it again, Uncle Leroy. My mother wants you to know he looked like young Elvis,” Jenny forced a smile. “He's about thirty or thirty-one. And . . . she went with him . . . willingly, to his room.” Jenny put both hands on her forehead, then closed her eyes. “The images,” she said. “They’re coming fast now, and . . . and my headache. It’s almost too much.” Wiping away tears, she closed her eyes, folded her arms and rested her head on them.
“Let’s stop,” the Chief said. “Jen, let’s stop for today.”
She opened her eyes. “No. Uncle Leroy, I’m not doing this again. Ever. We have to finish, today. Now.” She wiped beads of sweat from her forehead.
“But . . . your headache. I’ll just use what you’ve given me. It will all work out. I don't want you to hurt like this.” She was like a daughter to him, and being around her always made him miss his three daughters. All married and living in Memphis, he saw them and his grand children about once a year. They had all divorced him long ago too, along with his wife.
“No. You need more from me.” She breathed hard then grabbed Miss Livingston hard and held her close to her heart. “I can do this Uncle Leroy. Let me finish."
The Chief wanted this guy. He didn't like seeing Jenny hurting, at all, but he had to get this guy. Besides, he couldn't stop her if he wanted to, so he just closed his eyes and started praying silently, for Jenny.
"He killed her upstairs," she said, "in room 207. I can see the images of them on the bed. They’re naked, laughing. The bed is making crackling sounds. Like someone rolling over on plastic. Oh. She said he put plastic underneath the sheet before they got to his room that night. Now he’s wrapping the covers around her . . . and . . . oh! Oh my God! He cut her throat. It hurt so bad! It hurt her so bad!” Jenny leaned forward and laid her head on the table. Crying, she started wiping tears away with her hands. "Oh, God, why did he have to hurt her like that?"
The Chief quickly pulled all the napkins from the dispenser at their table, and then started looking around for more at other tables. He grabbed the dispenser from a nearby empty table, then moved his chair close so he could embrace Jenny. “Wait,” he said,“Jen. Wait. That sounds backwards. He wrapped her up before he killed her?”
“He did it . . . to keep the blood from splattering on him. When he wrapped her in the blanket, she thought he was playing. She was laughing . . . and it all happened so fast. He cut her throat, and, after that he put her, the blankets, and the plastic sheet from the bed into a big black suitcase. Then he took a shower. The suitcase had rollers, and it wobbled. All the way to the elevator, then all the way out to his car.”
“That makes sense,” the Chief said. “Perfect sense. He doesn’t leave a crime scene, because he takes it with him. All the evidence leaves with him.”
Jenny put both hands on her forehead. “Wait. Chief. She's saying something. Over and over. She keeps saying ‘Dar.’”
“Shhhh! Dar, not Dar? What? Beck, not Beck. Becky! She said you need to find a woman named Becky.” Finally, exhausted, Jenny collapsed into the Chief’s arms, laughing. He started laughing only because she was laughing. Jenny felt overjoyed because she knew, for sure, that the last time had come and gone. "It's over," she said. "Chief. This really was the last time." Cradling her in his arms, he laughed with her. He was elated for her, knowing his dear little "niece" would never have to go through the pain of doing this ever again was giving him more joy than anything had given him in years.
Jenny's headache had left in an instant only seconds ago, and it was already hard for her to even remember what it had felt like. The seeing was gone, and it had taken with it the unbearable headaches. That's when she knew God had given it all to her to help the Chief, and now that he would not need it again, it was all gone. That's how she knew it was gone forever. It had all left her as mysteriously as it had arrived.
The Chief called his forensics team to process room 207, not that he expected to find much. The guy knew how to keep from making a crime scene. Using plastic sheets under the cloth ones. Always dumping his victims where they’d be easily found, it had never been released to the public that police and the FBI suspected there was always another crime scene. And now, Jenny had confirmed it.
For the next three days and nights, Chief Leroy hung out in a dark corner of the seedy bar as much as he could. He got to know the regular patrons, the working girls, and anyone else who came there more than once or twice. Once he started feeling he’d reached a dead end, he made up his mind. It was time to start going to other hotel bars in the area. Maybe someone at one of the other places had seen the guy. He had to find someone, because he couldn’t go to his sketch artist and say “draw me a picture of young Elvis wearing Harry Potter glasses.” His gut told him this "Becky" was the someone who had seen the killer, and now he had to find her. Because experience had taught him, no one would take him seriously if he told them he’d gotten his information from a psychic.
On his way out of the bar that night, he was stopped by one of the women he’d already talked to.
“You’re the police, right?” she asked. “I’m Dee Warren? I talked to you the other night?”
He looked at his notepad and saw he’d written the name “Dee Warren” over one paragraph of interview notes.
“Actually,” she said. “My nickname’s Dee, but my name is Darlene.”
"Dar" had been one of the last things Jenny said to him. “Yes,” he said, “I remember you, Miss Warren.”
“I’m glad I caught you,” she said. “Because I've learned something I have to tell ya. One of the girls that used to work here? She left weeks ago, right before . . . well, you know. Anyway, I stopped by her new job to see her tonight, and I told her how you had this place all staked out. That’s when she told me . . . she thinks she might have seen the guy.”
The other bar was in one of the nicest hotels in Tupelo. When the Chief got there, Rebecca, “Becky” Avery was waiting for him.
“I think I saw the guy,” she said. “The one you told Dee might have been talking to that pretty blonde that always came in there late at night. That guy? Well, he caught my attention ‘cause he was so good looking. He was dressed real nice to be hanging around in the shadows, like he was tryin’ not to be noticed. When he sat down with that blonde, I thought he knew her."
"Why? What made you think that?"
"I don't know. It was just, well, they seemed to get real close real fast. Even for a woman like her. You know? I got off at two a.m. and they were still there, in the back. Talking and makin' out at the table. It was my last night, so I never went back there after that night. Then I went on vacation to Miami before starting this new job. I didn’t even know that blonde woman was the same one what got killed until Dee came by to see me tonight. She was telling me how you thought that blonde woman had been at her bar before she got killed and how you had her bar all staked out, and that's when it all came back to me. And Chief? If Dee, I mean, if Darlene hadn’t brought it up and told me all about it? I never would’ve thought about that guy ever again.”
Three months later the Chief retired. At age sixty-one, he was able to put behind him a very successful career, and—to his surprise, his ex-wife and all three of his daughters, and his grand kids, came to his retirement party.
Exactly twenty-five years since he had left the Memphis PD and moved back home to Tupelo, he and his ex were talking about getting back together.
"I'm a lucky man," he said to one of his other very special guests. "She brought it up. I got to think about it. But for her to even be considering taking me back, after all this time? I guess I'm just very lucky."
"I'm surprised to hear you say that." Queenette was giving him nothing but frowns, knowing he was expecting a smile. "I know you know better than that, 'cause I raised you better than that."
"You right, Mama Queen," he said, accepting a hug as he realized his mistake. "You and my first mama both raised me better than that. I'm not lucky. I'm blessed."
"You better believe it. No such thing as luck. I know. I wasn't quite seventeen when I married a man nearly twenty years older than me. Tupelo gossipers flapped they gums long and hard 'bout it, but it didn't bother me, 'cause I knew I was blessed. Ross senior. I loved him, and he adored me. A handsome man, outright owned a big old house left to him by his granny. Our parents gave us their blessings, and we both knew our love was a blessing too. Only two things I never liked about Ross senior. Drove that big truck, and was always gone too much. That's why I started keeping folks children, mostly for company, even though I always did love kids. Then I got my daycare license, and before long, I was in business. Married ten years before our twins came along. Another fifteen before the accident took Ross senior. Son, you go on back to that woman. Blind man can see she still loves you, and life moves real fast, bless God. Got to hold on to all the love you can find."
Twenty-five years ago, instead of leaving the police force, like he’d promised his wife he’d do once they had kids, Leroy had stayed on the force. He just couldn't leave, he told her. She was just too tired of being afraid for him all the time, so she left him. After that, he left Memphis and moved back home to do something good for his hometown. He felt that things had changed enough in Tupelo for someone like him to get to be Chief of Police, so he worked and worked on a new dream, which came true for him. His goal had been to do something there that he felt only he could do—get black and white people working together against crime, without regard to race, creed, or color. He wanted his hometown to rise above the “us vs. them” mentality that plagued a lot of towns when it came to fighting crime. He wanted something more, something better, for his hometown.
"Leroy Geiger?" Queenette gave him another hug. "God allowed my baby to be used as a blessing for you, so you could help a lot of people, and so you could retire a hero. In a 'old south' Mississippi town like this one, a black man is one of the most successful police chiefs—and one of the most successful detectives, in the history of the police department."
She was right. Among all his other accolades, thanks to Jenny Marie, Jessica Marie, Darlene Warren, and Becky Avery, Leroy Geiger captured the EEO Killer—before he could kill any other women.
While home for the Chief's retirement party, Jenny and Queenette got a chance to visit the home they all once shared in Tupelo. When Queenette moved to New York, she asked Ross to continue to live there, to take care of the place, in case she ever wanted to move back. Through the years, Ross had made it his own, and when he got married, he and his wife took care of it as if it were their own. Living rent and mortgage free for ten years, Ross had fixed up and modernized his mother's house while saving all the money he and his wife would have used to pay rent or a mortgage. After renovating his mother's house, working together, Ross and Tiana saved so much that they started buying, renovating, and flipping other old houses. They became very good at what they did. Now, in addition to owning a real-estate company with his wife, who was a real-estate agent and broker, Ross also owned his own trucking company. He supervised truck drivers and didn’t drive much anymore. With all he had, however, he was still finding time to grumble about anything and everything that bothered him.
“Just because a black man has managed to earn and save seven million dollars,” he grumbled to his mother, “doesn’t mean he ought to spend it on a swanky apartment building up in New York City. Even if it is in the best part of Harlem. Malcolm could have bought just about every commercial building in Tupelo with all that money.”
“I think he’s leaving that for you to do,” his mother said. Queenette Brown smiled. She was very proud of her two boys and her girl. All her children were doing real well, and her old house was looking as new as it possibly could. Even the once squeaky front porch planks were completely modern and new.
When Jenny stepped into the living room that day, she immediately felt something was off. The old Steinway was still there; its stately elegance still filling the room with memories and warmth. But something very important was clearly missing. She walked over to the piano. The brown paper bag made a loud crumpling sound that got the attention of Uncle Ross and her grandmother. She lifted out of the bag the doll that had now spent several months in Manhattan. Miss Livingston had helped Jenny get through some tough times, but now it was time for her to come home. After taking several photographs of the doll atop the newly restored upright piano, Jenny smiled. Miss Livingston looked beautiful in her new pink ball gown that was even more fitting and more elegant than the old one. Jenny was sure that doll was smiling an even bigger smile. And she was also sure it was because although Miss Livingston had enjoyed her first and last trip to New York City, the doll was thrilled to be back in Tupelo, living in Uncle Ross’s new old home. Jenny had brought her back because she was a fixture there, and it was the right place for her to be, where she and Uncle Ross could keep on protecting and preserving the goodness of the past, with their presence.
© 2017 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD