Thursday, February 7, 2013

She's Who Detects

The thing is that I love detective fiction, cozies and mysteries. However, I always found it hard (at one point) to find African-American mystery writers who wrote African-American protagonists.  Don't get me wrong, though.  I die for Kinsey Millhone and Kay Scarpetta.  Not to mention Eve Dallas, who I have recently decided to give up on (that‘s another story). Anyway, like most people who attempt to write, I wrote what I wanted to read. So I wanted to write about a young, black detective before she reaches professional status. She’s a secretary/assistant on her way to becoming a protégé, to be clear.  Maybe somewhere in the future she will take ownership of the agency she works for, much like P.D. James’s Cordelia Gray did when her boss committed suicide leaving her ownership of his agency.

So I wrote this sort of sketch piece for a Gotham Writer's Workshop class...

"Although it is Night"


At the time before Zadie Jones's entrance I knew nothing about the murder of Dorrie Jean Suggs, or either woman. I didn’t know Dorrie Jean was a Bishop’s wife. I also didn’t know she had a background so ugly and dark that one can only wonder where she got the resolve to ask God for mercy. And I certainly didn’t know she was murdered not even a mile outside of my neighbor. I didn’t care whether her spirit was disturbed because I was too caught up in my own personal disturbances, like many of us roaming this earth with blinders on as we attempt to find our way.

Nonetheless, at the time of Zadie's entrance I was sitting at my secretarial--or administrative assistant--desk struggling to put together a 1,400 word paper on determinism versus free will.  It was for my Theories of Personality course. Dividing my attention between typing up clients’ final reports for my boss, Jiremi, and rearranging my thesis statement for the umpteenth time, I finally decided my eyes had enough of swirling over separate documents.

These days my life remained divided between school assignments and my job as the assistant of Hemlocke Investigations. In more than one aspect, I was always juggling my attention between the two. One night I’m chewing my pen’s cap while writing course papers in long hand (good for the creative flow); next I’m typing up FD 302 reports without a hiccup in the exchange. Then there are those occasions where I’m caught sneaking out of a class after receiving a text concerning the whereabouts of transcripts I’ve typed. Sometimes I’m out with my friends getting reprimanded for checking my phone, in case I’ve missed a message from my boss. I don’t argue with the divide in my responsibilities much, if anything I take pride in being enough of a damn good typist to handle the split. So whether it is course papers or client reports, my material is always tidy and presented timely. I find it difficult to walk away from responsibilities that are within my means to handle, and most certainly control. Once something is on my hands, I’ll see it scrubbed clean off. Incidentally, Zadie’s case would test my subscription to that form of thought.

With all that I had going on, an impulsive break seemed required to manage my pace. I gave the vacant, blinking cursor one last sucking of my teeth before swiveling around in my chair to grab my purse off the filing cabinet. I kept drinks in the kitchenette’s refrigerator, located across from the sitting area. I would grab one on my way out, check the coffee carafe (despite business being slow), and pursue my burst of inspiration to stroll to the second-hand bookstore across the street. I checked the bookstore weekly for illustrations, and fashion design books; my current inspiration being anything Katharine Asher-ish. This sounded much more appealing than beating my brains against my laptop for words to pop up.

My boss, and owner of the agency, Jiremi, remained shut up in his office for the past hour. I could hear him speaking to someone on the phone, making now the perfect time to dip out the office for a spell. It was early April, after all. How could I resist not giving God his due for creating such a beautiful day by not engaging in the sunlight and shadows of maple trees?

I became moved by the glint of sunlight waving through the windows. My chair banged against the small bookshelf as I stood up, unplugging my cell from its charger with one jerk of the cord. I glided my stocking feet into the pair of agonizing, black Nine West that my grandma bought me. She wanted me to look well-garbed for my first secretarial job, which translated to a decent and approachable black woman of twenty-seven. According to my family, my success as a socially functional human being was riding off my new position, after having failed at my previous job as a customer service cashier and representative because of my “attitude problem.” Evidently, my family didn't understand that any semblance of an attitude problem derived from them, particularly my mother’s side.

My father and his family lives two states away in Louisiana (too far to judge my behavior), and it was his side of the family that hooked me up with a position at Hemlocke Investigations. See, my mom rang my dad up once she found out I was fired from my previous job, as she takes absolute delight in sharing my business the second I display my knack for reckless conduct. Exhausted by my mother’s worn histrionics, my dad backed me up as dads will often do their grown daughters. My dad had the connection that I needed. He went to high school with Jiremi’s father, who later passed the business to his son. Turned out it all happened right on time, considering Jiremi’s last assistant walked out on him because of what he quoted her stating were “religious discrepancies.” Whatever the hell that meant because the checks I earned from Jiremi hardly make me give a damn about any discrepancies.

Bending to scribble a note just in case Jiremi stepped out of the office to find me missing; I heard the outer door open when the hum of traffic and singing robins slipped over the bellow of the office’s air conditioner unit.

Pen poised in my hand, my voice got caught somewhere in the slack of my jaw at the sight of Zadie Jones’s fraught arrival.

She stood in the open doorway looking as if she’d just stepped out of an Alice Walker novel, dressed in a dated, lime-colored church ensemble of suit (with nice envelop folds and banded tier), hat and clutch purse. She glared at me with a face beat with foundation, counterbalancing the natural coloring of her neck and hands. Her haircut curled with touches of gray, falling out of her swollen hat to dust her shoulders. She had to be about 60-ish, that much I could tell over her botched makeup attempt. And while it took me a second to absorb the brightness of her ensemble, what truly arrested my sensibilities was the flaring of her breath as she gripped the door handle with a slight arch in her back. Her nostrils were wide enough to swallow quarters, and I could imagine myself doing so at arm’s length. If that’s what it took to remedy what looked like a woman hanging around Death’s door in the gripes of a heart attack, I would do so with the spare change in my pocket.

Lord, please don’t let this woman fall down dead in front of me, was all I thought. Evidently, I was useless in emergency situations, as all I felt my body capable of achieving was an anxious stare. I was frozen in place, watching her stained, yellow cigarette eyes crease up at me. All I felt I could do was wait on her dirty eyes to roll back into her head as she crumbled to the floor. Only then would I felt capable of running to her side. Only then would I know for sure whether this was an emergency situation or something else completely.

Like many, I had a funny way of mentally checking out during emergency situations.

Nevertheless, my visitor did not fall over dead, nor did a pursing madman come trailing behind her. Yet, I felt little relief in my hush.

“Well, what’cha looking at, gal? Ain’t you ‘posed to offer me a seat or something?” Drawn between hard breaths, her questions came out of a pair of glossed lips that sneered at my uselessness.

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