KENDRA DARJAMIAN waved at her father until his car disappeared a week into her Christmas break, and as it did, her mother asked, "All right, what’s bothering you."
"What makes you think that?"
"You could always snow your father, but not me, Kennie. I knew there was something up when you called me last week from the airport."
"Busted, I guess . . . Okay, let’s go inside?" her mother said, reminding with an eye-twitch that one of the neighbor’s maids was approaching, a pleasant but nosey Guatamalan grandmother. Once they were behind two inches of oaken door, Kendra admitted to her mother, "I slept with someone I really shouldn’t have."
"O-kay. And why is this so terrible? Was it that boy who writes for the Crimson?"
"Darnell? No!," said Kendra, starting to laugh and, feeling a little guilty about laughing laughing at even the thought of sleeping with poor little Darnell, stopping herself. "No, it was Evan Maxwell."
"Oh, your study buddy," said her mother, raising an eyebrow slightly and drawing out the words. She didn’t sound surprised. "Where does the big problem come in? You used protection, didn’t you?"
"Of course we did," said Kendra. "What it is, is, Evan has a girlfriend and I knew about her, and I did it anyway. God, after Jules . . . I thought I’d never do something like that again. It’s not like me. It’s not like me."
"Girlfriend, not a wife. Did he tell you about her?"
"He said he had one right after I met him. I don’t really know anything else, except she’s a year behind him. Still in high school . . . I don’t know how it happened, really."
"And you haven’t told your father anything, I suppose."
"Daddy? He doesn’t even know about Jules . . . does he?"
"I think he does, but he’s never said anything definite," said her mother. "Have you heard from him since?"
"No. I haven’t called him."
"Well, don’t. Either he’ll tell his girlfriend about you, or he won’t. From what you’ve told me about your study buddy, he likes to think he can work out his own problems."
Kendra managed to put Evan Maxwell out of mind, mostly, for the rest of the break. After all, it was only one time, or at least one night. Why was she making such a big deal out of it? Maybe it was because it had been so long since Jules, three years since sheÔŅĹd found out about his wife and son and other details Jules had left out of her part of his life. What a Christmas present that had been! Maybe it was Christmas reminding her of that, and Evan was there . . . maybe that was all there was to it.
But when she first saw Evan after returning to Harvard, she knew there was more to it, and the first words, the very first words she said to him were: "Did you tell your girlfriend about us? " He nodded and looked away. "It was bad, wasn’t it? " she said, and knew it was stupid, stupid to say that. And not only was it the wrong thing to say, it was said at a bad time because before she could say anything else, Darnell Freedman inserted all 5 feet 1 inch of himself into the conversation.
"Kendra, who’s your new friend?"
Fate had been kind up until that moment in that Darnell had never seen Evan together with Kendra. She hesitated to answer. Evan responded instead: "Evan Maxwell. This is my first year here." He extended his hand.
Freedman accepted the handshake, but his brows were beginning to furrow a little. "Pleased to meet you. Are you on our football team?"
"Oh. You just look like you might be . . . I thought you might be busy with practice all the time. Are you in the BSU?"
"No, I’m not."
"Well, you don’t have to be, I suppose. Anyway," said Freedman, turning to Kendra, "We’re having a function tonight." He handed her a flyer, and then one to Evan. "Can I pick you up at seven?"
"Ummm, no thanks, Darnell. I can’t."
"Oh. Well, if you can’t . . . what about you, Mr. Maxwell? I’d be glad to give you a ride."
Evan was studying the flyer. He looked up, and he shook his head slowly and definitely, saying: "I won’t be going, Mr. Freedman."
Darnell looked back and forth between Evan and Kendra, and she knew he’d picked up on their connection. "I see. Maybe some other time." He turned and stalked away.
Darnell Freedman was not entirely clueless about girls despite his virginity. He could have sized up the situation between Kendra Darjamian and that Maxwell guy—Evan? Evan, like that white writer—even without overhearing the words they had exchanged. He was good enough to be Kendra’s friend, but for a lover, she’d gone after another tall, good-looking guy. And a freshman! That was an extra twist of the knife, although maybe this Maxwell wasn’t right out of high school. He looked like maybe he’d done time in the Army or something. Or maybe some jail time? No, that was a little too much to ask for, and it was an unkind thought. Here he was handing rounding up people to go to a rally to support an African-American who’d been thrown into prison when he was still a kid, and he was thinking that Maxwell was a gang-banger straight out of Compton. Even if he wasn’t really a student, Kendra had to have better taste and better sense than that.
Darnell put on a good face until after the rally that night. He came home to his dorm and found his roommate asleep. Only then did he fire up his laptop and begin digging for some facts on Maxwell. The student registry had him, the picture was him, definitely. Evan Maxwell, he’d gotten the first name right. First year, no declared major. Born in Los Angeles; graduated from Orinda High School, also somewhere in California. Orinda, that rang a bell somewhere . . . Top-rated school, campus more like a college from its website. Stories . . . there it was. Orinda was where some of the alien royals were going, including Prince Kageshirô, who had been often linked with Ms. Chiba’s daughter. Sarah Uer, the one who was supposed to have been shot by Michael Ennis Grandville according to the always-infallible NYPD. Maybe this Grandville knew her. Doubtful, but he was only a year ahead.
And he was younger than Kendra by a year. The knife twisted a little bit more. Darnell was a senior, and this Maxwell was only a freshman.
Two evenings later Darnell Freedman was talking with Sanford Cashton, the Dean of Journalism. Cashton tried to comfort Darnell when he heard his tale of woe. "I’ve lost quite a few girls in my times to the bad boys, but I found one with the good sense to stick with me, and so will you. But what I think you should do now is see if you can cultivate Mr. Maxwell. If he went to the same high school as Ms. Chiba’s daughter, I guarantee he knows something about that would be relevant to the Grandville story."
"Cultivate him? He looks like he could plant me with one shot, Professor."
"And if he does, I’ll see that he’s expelled, Darnell. Look, this is an excellent opportunity to practice getting close to a difficult source, the kind of thing you have to do if you are ever going to be an effective journalist, not just another talking head. And I think you may be giving up too soon on Ms. Darjamian. Getting closer to Mr. Maxwell, after all, also means you will be staying closer to her, eh? Patience, patience. He who is patient, obtains."
Actually Dean Cashton was much more interested in keeping his protégé Darnell from doing something foolish than developing a doubtful source. But Darnell Freedman resolved to follow his mentor’s advice. Of course, he was also a full time student in every sense, one of the increasingly rare ones at Harvard or any other American university who had a realistic prospect of finishing a four-year degree in four years when five or even six was becoming more of a norm. He had no classes at all with freshman Maxwell, no surprise. However, he had taken two classes from Professor Barnet and Maxwell was in one of Barnet’s courses. Barnet was easy to talk to. "Maxwell? Yes, I have him this term. Do you know him?"
"I’ve only met him once, and I’m afraid I was in a bad mood. He was with Kendra Darjamian."
"Oh. Oh, I see," said Barnet, raising one eyebrow. "Hmmm, I think I can see why you didn’t take to him."
"You’ve seen them together?
"No, no, not at all. But I, hmmm, presumed you have had intentions for Ms. Darjamian. So, you’re checking up on your competition, then?"
"I guess you could say that. If I know more about him before I see him again, maybe it might help me to hold it together better. All I know, really, is he’s from California, according to the registry. Can you give me a little more on him?"
"Hmmmm, no deep, dark secrets, I’m afraid. Good student. Charming mother, two sisters."
"You know his family?"
"Oh, no, no, only met them the one time, in orientation week. Wouldn’t mind seeing his mother again."
Darnell decided not to press any further then. If Professor Barnet was sweet on Maxwell’s mother, it wasn’t wise to tip his hand further.
A second week went by. Darnell Freedman spotted Maxwell several times. Twice he was close enough to consider accosting him, but both times, he chickened out when he began to get close. Maxwell had an intense look about him, something that frightened Darnell. Freedman wasn’t lacking in personal courage, but there was an energy field around Maxwell that put him off.
Seeing Kendra was worse, but at least he could force himself to see her. She wasn’t really responding to any of his voicemails or emails, so he finally set out for her apartment. Of course, he might find her there with Maxwell. He could face Maxwell if she was there, he thought.
Odd, he hadn’t seen her together with Maxwell. But, then, he had never seen them together before that awful day at the end of Thanksgiving break.
Kendra Darjamian was wondering if the two scant emails she had gotten from Evan’s girlfriend were genuine. All she knew was the address wasn’t phony because her replies hadn’t been kicked back. Was it a prank? She had waited for nearly three hours now, unable to concentrate on anything. What was his girlfriend like? Why had Evan made such a big secret of who she was? Neither email had even given a name to her mysterious rival.
When Kendra was just about ready to give up and go somewhere else, anywhere else but her apartment, someone knocked. Kendra nearly opened the door without looking, but she stopped herself and peered through the fisheye-lensed peephole. There were two girls there, one tall and skinny with long black hair, one short with a hoodie. Both of them were wearing dark glasses, kind of odd for nighttime in December. She put the chain on and opened the door a tiny crack. "What do you want?"
"I’m Evan’s girlfriend," came the answer. It was a surprisingly high voice, a bit childlike, and had no anger in it. "This is my sister."
"Oh . . . Just a sec," said Kendra, hastily undoing the chain and letting the girls inside. Checking outside the door for nosy neighbors first, Kendra closed it, saying, "Sorry, I didn’t expect two people." Turning around, she said, "I really don’t know anything . . . " Now she saw that the tall one was leading the short one. "Your sister is blind?" Kendra blurted out.
"Yes, she is," said the tall one, guiding the blind girl to the couch, "Thanks to poor persecuted Michael Grandville. He’s quite a hero here, isn’t he?" The tall one took off her glasses, revealing startling blue eyes set in an otherwise very Asian face. There was a lot of anger in her voice, which wasn’t the first voice Kendra had heard.
"My name is Sarah, Ms. Darjamian," said the blind girl. "Sarah Uer. This is my sister Kimberly, but we all call her ’Kimi.’"
"Oh my God! I didn’t know! I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!"
"Yes you are, Kendra Darjamian," said the blind one softly. "You really, really are." Somehow those words seemed to echo, and Kendra felt strange, very strange.
Darnell Freedman normally had to park several blocks from Kendraís apartment. It was close enough to the campus to be bike-able, but bicycles had always been unfriendly to Darnell; heíd never mastered riding one. He had to spend quite some time this evening looking for a space; they were even harder than usual to find. He passed by two after consideration; too short to be sure he could get in without tapping a bumper and probably setting off a car alarm or, God forbid, scratch some paint. It was after the second too-small space that he noticed the police car in his rear view.
The cop car followed him through four turns before the lightbar started flashing blue. There was no place to pull over, absolutely no place. Darnell had to drive for three blocks before he found a bus stop to pull into. Just as he did, the cop carís PA system announced to himself and the whole neighborhood, "Stay in the car and keep both hands on top of the wheel." As a fat cop approached, Darnell laughed loudly and bitterly. He recognized the bus stop. It was the one across the street from Kendraís apartment. Heíd had his mind on the cops, and lost track of where he was.
Kendra Darjamian went to the window as soon as she heard the PA blaring from the street below. "Oh Jesus! I think thatís Darnellís car!"
Sarahís sister had come up with her. She put her head right up to the glass and said, "You know this guy?"
"Yes, heís a good friend. Heís harmless! Why are they doing this?"
"Gee, a black guy in an old car in a rich white neighborhood after midnight," said Kimi. "Who woulda thunk?"
"Oh God, here comes one of them! Does he have his hand on his gun?"
"He does, said Kimi. She switched to Japanese to talk to her sister and then whipped out a cellphone to talk to someone else. Sarah had made her way to her sister by herself.
The fat cop, the one with stripes, said, "I want you to listen carefully, and do nothing until I tell you to, and nothing else. Okay? Use one hand to open your window, and then put it back up on the wheel. Okay?"
Darnell followed the order, moving slowly, carefully, saying, "Iím not armed, officer."
"Thatís good to hear, but we donít really know that, do we? Sit still while we have a look, okay?"
The other cop came up, and both of them shined bright flashlights into the car and onto him, especially into his eyes, even though the street was quite well lit.
"Hereís another police car," said Kimi. pointing out one just coming into sight nearly two long blocks away.
"Iím going down there," said Kendra.
"Donít," said Sarah Uer. Again, that soft word seemed to echo somehow.
"Darnell is in real trouble. Iíve got to help him."
As Kendra began to move, the blind girl seized one of her wrists. The girl was unexpectedly strong. For a moment Kendra thought she was six and her father was snatching her away from some huge no-no. "Then weíll go with you," said Sarah Uer.
Some onlookers had appeared to gawk at Darnell Freedman, now sitting on the curb with his hands cuffed behind his back. Two cops minded him, two more were searching the car, and two more were getting out of yet another black-and-white. One of his minders walked a few steps away to fend off some rubberneckers. Slowly turning his head, Darnell saw the cop was moving back two women, one of them quite pregnant. They had been jabbering away in some foreign language, maybe Korean or Cambodian from the sound, although they didnít look very Asian. In fact, they were real oddballs, very petite and large-eyed with strangely colored hair: sky blue on the pregnant one, bright green on the other, slightly more solidly built one.
Then Darnell heard Kendraís voice, and forgot caution for a moment to snap his head about. A heavy cop hand pressed into his shoulder. "Easy, there." Meanwhile Kendra came forward with two strange girls, a tall skinny Asian and a short blind girlóshe had one of those telescoping white canes with a red tip. "Officers, officers, I know this boy," said Kendra. <So Iím still just a boy to her,> thought Darnell.
"All right, you know him. Letís just step back before we talk about that." It was fat-cop-with-stripes, obviously the alpha male of this group. Stripes moved Kendra far enough off so that Darnell couldnít follow their conversation. But he had good hearing, good enough to hear one old white woman in a bathrobe explain to another old white woman in a bathrobe murmer "The nigger girl from the fifth floor said she knows this one."
"I knew sheíd bring more of them," said the other.
Evan Maxwell had started what seemed like a hundred emails to Kendra Darjamian, and sent none of them. He’d also left his share of silent messages on her email. Finally he came to the conclusion that he had to see her face-to-face to do whatever he was going to do about his dilemma. So he set out on his fool’s errand knowing it probably was such, but needing to do something about the conflicted feelings that were robbing him of sleep and concentration. Besides, his latest roommate was snoring so loudly, he wouldn’t be sleeping anyway.
He took his bike, and dressed the part of a bicycle rider: Helmet, nylon pants, nylon jacket. Something heavier would be more appropriate, but it would also mark him as something other than a bicycle rider. A burgler, for instance.
His precautions seemed warranted as he neared Kendra’s apartment building. Blue, red and amber flashed and blinked, announcing the presence of one, two, three police cars, with another pulling up behind Evan as he got off his bike and eased his way to the front of the small crowd gawking at the incident. All were white, of course; Kendra was the only person of color he knew lived in this area unless you counted a Korean family from across the street, and they didn’t seem to be present. Many of the people were older, many of them in nightclothes. As he passed a couple of old women in bathrobes, one of them said, "Another one." The other said, "I think I’ve seen him before." The first old woman asked, "Why did you let that nigger girl rent here, anyway?" An old white man replied, "Her father’s white. He didn’t tell the my agent she wasn’t. Once they get in, they’re like hell to get out."
The star of the show was little Darnell Freedman, sitting handcuffed as he sat on the sidewalk watched over by two bulked-up cops. The "nigger girl" was Kendra, arguing with a fat white cop with a bull neck and corporal’s stripes in gold. And by Kendra were some more people Evan recognized. The tall skinny one was Sarah’s little sister Kimi. Two of the Asatara sisters were there, which meant that—"Sarah!" Evan called out.
All the cops turned to look at Evan Maxwell.
Kendra Darjamian heard Evan’s voice and automatically turned to face him, though he was on the other side of the no-go area around Darnell. Without thinking, she responded by calling out just as loudly, "Evan?"
"That’s another one of your boyfriends?" said Senior Corporal Axely, the cop who seemed to be in control of things.
"He’s another Harvard student like me."
"Oh, another Harvard man," said Axely.
"Actually he’s my boyfriend," said Sarah. Then she called out, "You’re late, Evan!"
One of the cops laughed. Axely flushed red, and lost his cheerful-public-servant face for a second. Then the fat cop called out, "We need to talk to that one," pointing out Evan. Two cops coming up behind Evan converged on him. Meanwhile Axely motioned the youngest cop, the one from his own car, to come up. "Keep an eye on the ladies here while I talk to Lance Armstrong over there." Then he strolled over to Evan, taking time to murmer some cryptic joke to the two bodybuilder-types watching Darnell. Whatever it was got laughs from all the cops except the youngest one.
Kendra started to move toward Evan and Axely, but Axely’s young partner put out his hands to bar the way. But he didn’t grab at her as Axely had several times.
Sarah called out again, this time in Japanese. Having spent time in Japan with her father, Kendra did understand a little Japanese, and she understood the gist of this short phrase, which was, "The fat one is dangerous."
Evan Maxwell had took a moment to understand Sarah. He had never lived in Japan, after all. But he already sensed the gist of Sarah's warning. The fat cop's eyes didn't smile, and his hand was never, never far from his gun. He was a leftie, Evan noticed.
"What's your business here?" asked the fat cop.
"I just came over to see my girlfriend there," said Evan as carefully as he could manage.
"Which one?" The fat cop and the two just moving off to help manage the crowd laughed. "Do you know her other boyfriend over there? He's the one with the cuffs on."
"Not well, but I know who he is."
"And just who would that be?"
"His name is Darnell Freedman. He writes—
"So he's a writer, said the fat cop, cutting off Evan. "You got ID on you?"
"Let's have a look at it."
Evan noticed the cop had moved his gun hand closer to his weapon. Evan Maxwell slowly reached into his pocket, explaining, "It's here in my jacket. Here."
The fat cop took his ID folder and took out his driver's license. "California. Take awhile to run this. O'Neill? Run this for me?" One of the cops who'd moved away came back, took Evan's license, and went back to his car. Meanwhile the fat cop took out his student ID, and with a quick motion flipped away his ID folder into a pile of slush in the gutter. He waited a critical moment before saying, "Oops . . . well, we'll pick it up later. What's your name?"
"It's Evan Maxwell."
"Matches your ID. You play football, Evan?"
"That's a shame. You look like you might make a decent running back. Who's your girlfriend over there? Remember her name?"
"If you mean the African-American woman, her name is Kendra Darjamian."
"What about your other girlfriend. Sarah, was it? What's her full name?"
Kevin hesitated. <<Tell him>> came into his mind. <You can read me from here?> thought Kevin.
"You forgot her name already?" said the fat cop. "Taken any drugs tonight? Have any drugs on you, any weapons?"
"No, no I don't."
"Well, I'm not so sure, so I want you to go over to that wall, put your hands on it, spread your hands and feet, and I'll search you. Is that okay with you, Evan?"
"I'll do it."
Corporal Axely had begun searching the black bicyclist. His young partner Officer Peter Shockley bit his lip slightly.
"Are they going to arrest him too?"
"I don't know, Ma'am. Keep back, we're just doing our job here."
The blind girl said, "Does your partner have problems with African-Americans?"
"He's just doing his job, Ma'am." Shockley lied.
"That’s good," said the fat cop. "That’s excellent, in fact. Perfect distance between the hands, between the feet, perfect. You’ve had practice. You’ve done this before, haven’t you? How many convictions?"
"Even on your juvie record? Well, that’s off-limits now, so I guess I’ll never know for sure. How many arrests?"
"I’ve never been arrested. I’ve been stopped and searched a few times."
"I’m sure you have. Now, you’ve made such a good start here, it would be a shame to fuck up, so don’t get anxious. I’m kind of slow these days. I’m going to search you with just one hand, my right hand. It’s going to take awhile. If you don’t want to do it here, we can put you in a car and you can go to the station. You’ll get a body cavity search there, though. Well, you want me to search you here, now?"
"Go ahead," said Evan.
Darnell Freedman saw the fat cop move Maxwell out of the street, but sitting on the curb he couldn’t see past a line of newspaper vending boxes. When he leaned back to try to see, his minders shoved him back. "Sit up straight, son."
<This will make one hell of an article,> thought Darnell. Whatever the fat cop was doing to Maxwell, it was heating up Kendra. She was talking with the young cop, the only one who hadn’t been retrained to racism, and pointing. From across the street, she could probably see what the fat cop was doing.
Kendra Darjamian saw that Senior Corporal Axely the fat cop with the gold stripes, was searching Evan with one hand. His other hand was very close to his gun, maybe even gripping it. "This is not right," said Kendra. "Can you tell me that is right?" she said, louder, pointing. "THIS IS NOT RIGHT!" she shouted without meaning to.
People began turning away from Evan and Darnell toward her. So did the cops, except fat Corporal Axely.
It was cold, and getting colder. A breeze had come up, with gusts strong enough to bend trees and send robes and skirts flying up. There was just a bit of sleet in it, too. The ugly weather had all but swept inside the rubberneckers when Kendra shouted. Then the last ones, an old man and the two racist old ladies in bathrobes, turned around and stepped out to watch. They were just a few yards from Evan Maxwell when they stopped. Four more cops started to approach Kendra and Sarah-tachi, but the fat cop whistled and made a whirling motion with his free hand, then pointed down. It was a signal, "Rally to my point," but Evan didn’t know infantry hand signals.
Sarah did. <<He’s an ex-Marine>> mindspoke Sarah, and explained the signal.
The fat cop said, "Stay right there, and don’t move," and stepped away to confer with the others. He murmered, "Let him handle it. If he can’t handle a bunch of girls by himself . . ." Evan could not make out the rest, because the old man stepped up to him and stage-whispered, "Jigaboo, looks like you’re high yeller girl over there’s gonna get her black ass thrown in jail, too."
But she didn’t, at least not then. It started to rain in earnest. Axely went to fetch his rain gear. He took his time. Meanwhile the other cops except the rookie talked with the old man under a nearby awning. Evan Maxwell was left leaning against a wall beyond any shelter. Axely returned, but he joined the old man and the other cops. He let Evan get soaked for about a quarter of an hour before resuming his search. "Got a little tied up," he said. "Have to start all over. Is that okay with you?"
"Go ahead," said Evan Maxwell.
"That’s nice to hear," said Axely, the fat cop.
The freezing rain began to come down in sheets. The two beefy cops came back and took Darnell Freedman to their cruiser, parked around the corner from the bus stop. They put him on the hard plastic seat in the back compartment which had no door handles inside, of course, and no roll-down windows, of course. It was separated from the front of the passenger compartment not by the usual metal mesh screen, but by thick plexiglass, or perhaps the new transparent Kevlar 2. Darnell noticed that all the windows were made of this armor.
This battlecruiser of a cop car was parked where he had no view of what was going on in the street in front of Kendra’s apartment building. But he did get to view something interesting a few minutes later. A big tow truck pulled halfway out of that street into the intersection, and a crew of three enormous men, or on closer inspection two men and one enormous woman, hopped out and went into action like a NASCAR pit crew. In perhaps three minutes they were back in their truck and towing Darnell’s car away.
Officer Peter Shockley had thought for a few moments Ms. Darjamian might start throwing punches, but she didn’t, after all. He even got her and the others to move back, at least more under their awning to escape from the cold rain.
At last Axely returned, but as he did Jankowski and Martinelli, the two body-builders who moonlighted in their own little security firm, took the cyclist around the corner in cuffs. "Are you arresting him too?" demanded Darmajian.
"Nobody’s under arrest yet," said Axely. He was better with women, usually, even black ones—unless they got too shrill with him. Axely seemed to be a little more relaxed, so maybe real trouble wouldn’t come, Shockley hoped. "Your boyfriend agreed to it. He seems to be a pretty reasonable guy, all in all. He knows how it is. Why don’t you? All we’re doing is following procedure so nobody gets hurt here."
"Why are you really doing this? Is it that old man over there?" Darjamian pointed.
Did the girl know? Shockley wondered, decided she couldn’t have known. But there was old man Turnkey, still out with Axely’s other cronies, plainly gloating from his gestures and expression.
"He’s just an old man who likes to butt in too much," said Axely smoothly. "Why don’t you all go inside? It’s raining."
"I’m not going in until you let my friends go," said Darjamian, standing a bit taller. Taller, in fact, than Axely, who might have an overbearing personality but did not possess more than average height. In fact, Axely was short, for a cop. Shockley wondered how much it hurt him that Shockley was tall with no weight problem and no prospect of one. "What are you charging them with?"
"Nothing now. Maybe nothing, ever. But there are some things we need to clear up. Listen, if you want, I can charge your friend with the car. He damn near took out a pedestrian a few blocks from here. Me and my partner saw it. Now, I was inclined to give him a break, but if you want to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, then maybe I’ll write him up. Would you like that better, Ma’am?"
"No. No, I wouldn’t."
Shockley sighed with relief. Ms. Darjamian had backed down. Sometimes being as scary as he could be was good for Senior Corporal Axely, and maybe for all concerned.
The short girl, the one who was wearing dark glasses, said something neither Shockley nor Axely understood. It was Japanese, Shockley knew, though he actually knew only a few words from his Gundam period a decade and more before. Axely seemed to pick up more of it. He had been a Marine. Did he know the lingo? "Excuse me, what was that?" asked Axely.
"I said you lie well. I suggest you release Mr. Freedman and my boyfriend now, before you get into more trouble."
Uh-oh. Shockley hadn’t seen this coming at all. The little one seemed to have been calming down Darjamian and the others.
"Trouble? Well . . . I really don’t want trouble. I think I’d like to see some ID now, from all of you."
Another surprise came: Darjamian spoke up and tried to calm things down. Handing her ID to Axely, she said, "I’ll take responsibility. Please, don’t drag her into this."
Axely shoved the ID into his shirt pocket and said, "I think your friend dragged herself in. Now, I need to see some ID." He reached for the short one. The tall one and the two oddballs instantly moved in front of him. One of the oddballs snarled, "She is not to be touched!" The snarl came out as a squeal in her little-girl voice, and Axely laughed, then he said, "All right, no touch! But I need ID, identification, from all of you."
The short one translated, maybe, and thrust her ID out in the air. Axely took it last, probably deliberately. He asked, "Just hand it to me, OK?"
"She can’t see you, Officer," said the tall one. "My sister is blind."
Axely took the outthrust cards. He examined these, which he hadn’t really done with the others stuffed in his shirt. "What is your full name, Ma’am?"
"Sarah Ami Usagi Uer," said the blind girl.
"Sarah Uer? The—" Officer Shockley began to blurt.
"Yes. That one," said the blind girl.
Axely hesitated. Then he stuffed her cards in with the others, said, "Well, maybe," and stalked off. "Shockley? Keep them here!" was his only command.
"There goes your cover," said Darjamian quietly, in English.
"It can’t be helped," said Sarah in Japanese, in a phrase Shockley did not understand but had heard quite a lot.
"Wave to your moms!" said Freedman cheerfully as soon as the two beefy cops were gone. "Say ‘Hi!’"
"Oh . . . listening to us, right? Recording?" said Maxwell.
"Give the man a cigar," said Freedman. "You been arrested before?"
"Stopped, yeah. Never arrested. I’m not supposed to be under arrest now."
"Yeah. Neither am I. I’ve been busted twice, once for a protest and once before for Driving While Black. That time they said they was sorry, it was a mixup with some other nigger. ‘course they didn’t say ‘nigger’ to me or my parents or their lawyer."
"Of course," Maxwell said.
"What you here for? See Kendra?"
"Ah . . . Yeah, I guess. My girlfriend’s with her. I guess the Big Talk was about to come. I don’t know, maybe this is better." He laughed.
After awhile, with Maxwell not volunteering more, Freedman said, "Excuse me, but . . . I’ve kind of got a thing for Kendra, know what I mean? What’s she to you?"
"She’s a friend."
"Just a friend? That’s all?"
"Should be.Should be. I don’t know . . . why don’t you ask her yourself?"
"Maybe I was on my way to do just that, Mr. Maxwell. But she not here. You is."
"I wish you wouldn’t try to talk black for me, Mr. Freedman.
I’m not a gangsta from the hood.
Besides," he said, laughing, "You suck! You get youself laughed at or beat
on you try talkin’ that trash in
"I did got laughed at and beat on, both," said Freedman. Then he switched into his most nasal white guy to say: "But I really am a black person, so I try to sound like one sometimes, even if I do suck."
Maxwell really laughed this time. "Where you grow up, anyway?"
"But no whites."
"Not around us. There are some white people at places like the point, but damn few in the iron triangle, where we live."
"Oh, yeah. Mexican gangs, Cambodian gangs, Vietnamese gangs . . . not me. I was never in one. That what you diggin’ for?"
"What about your father?"
"My father," said Maxwell, pausing for a moment. "He’s doing time for drugs. Federal time. His girlfriend ratted on him to keep her kids, and he went along with it."
"Is he an addict?"
"No. No, he was never into drugs. Booze, and beating on my mother and us when he got mad when he was drunk. But drugs, no. It was his girlfriend, I know. Stupid. He cold never be a real dealer. He’s never been a real anything. Oh, he tried. He was trying all the time, when he wasn’t on a drunk or after some woman. Hmmm . . . I guess maybe that didn’t leave much time for trying, after all."
"So you got half-brothers and sisters?"
"Probably all over."
"But you don’t know them?"
"No. No, I don’t know any of them. Their real daddy is welfare."
Maxwell fell silent again. Again, Freedman waited until restarting the conversation. "I heard one of the other girls say she was your girlfriend."
"Yeah, she did."
"Yeah. From high school. Didn’t expect her to come out here."
"I guess you wouldn’t. So, I heard her name was ‘Sarah.’ I’ve done a little research . . . she isn’t Sarah Uer, is she? I mean, it must seem silly to ask, but she did go to the same high school."
Maxwell took so long to answer Freedman was about to give up. "Yes."
"Yes? Sarah Uer? The one that Mr. Grandville is charged with shooting?"
"Yes. That one. That’s my high school girlfriend out there. And I’d like that to stay out of the Crimson, if you don’t mind."
"I don’t see how that would help," said Freedman. "If the police take her name, and I’m sure they have by now—"
"Yeah. Well, I guess then you’ve got your big-ass story."
"I didn’t want to get it this way," said Freedman.
"You should have told them you were with the Crimson right away, damnit! The cops wouldn’t have touched you after that."
"And they wouldn’t have picked you up? You must have some nice policemen in your Richmond, Mr. Maxwell!"
"Well, maybe you got a point. But you still should have tried to keep this from blowing up. Kendra almost got busted, I think."
"Kendra? They wouldn’t touch her. Her father’s a movie star for Christ’ sake! Man, any minute we’ll be seeing some brown-nosing lieutenant out here tearing out that fat cop a new asshole and kissing up to Kendra and your girlfriend. Hell, probably the goddamned Chief-of-Police of this crackerbox town."
"I hope you’re right. But you still put Kendra in the line of fire."
Officer Peter Shockley had expected Corporal Axely to let the detainees loose within a few minutes once he had discovered they were mixed up with a real VIP, but perhaps he didn’t believe it. Shockley found it hard to believe himself, but he was cautious enough not to let on too much to the women. The girls, really, except for Darjamian. Even the tall one seemed much younger than he’d first assumed. Thankfully, they didn’t say much to him at all. They talked to each other instead, and Shockley understood almost none of it because almost none of it was in English. Some of what Shockley could not understand was this:
KENDRA: I don’t believe it. That bigoted man still is not letting them go free, even after you told him who you really are.
SARAH (Japanese): I have humiliated him in front of his friends, I think. But it is you, I think, who is making him more angry. Please, go inside. I will be here.
KENDRA (English): No, I’m not leaving Evan behind, and I’m not leaving poor little Darnell behind.
SARAH (Japanese): Do not be so afraid I will take him back from you. Please go inside before the fat one comes back.
KENDRA (Japanese): Take him back? He is yours, Sarah-san. What happened was a mistake. I know that now. It was only—no, that is not important, never mind.
KIMI (Japanese): We know about the baby.
KENDRA (English): What? How did you know? I didn’t even tell Evan. (Japanese): I am not sure I will ever tell him. Does he know? From you?
SARAH (Japanese): That is not so important now. It would be better for you to go back to your apartment, at least for a short time. You are making the fat one angry.
KENDRA (Japanese): You must be making the fat one more angry. You’re why he has to back down now, no matter how much he does not want to do so.
SARAH (Japanese): No, it is still mostly you, I think. Please, go inside?
KIMI (Japanese): My sister is right. Please, go inside.
KENDRA (English): No, I’m staying until this is finished.
In a way Shockley was glad he didn’t understand them. He might have intervened, made a mistake. At least Ms. Darjamian seemed to be more and more under control. The incident should wind up soon, shouldn’t it? Kendra returned to Japanese and the subject of how Sarah and her sister knew she was pregnant. She took no notice that two cars and four cops were leaving, and forgot for awhile her curiosity about the mean old man who seemed to take so much delight in the trouble.
The old man was one Gene Turnkey, and he owned not only Kendra’s
apartment building but eight others in Exmouth and a
half-dozen more scattered around the
"She’s got ID that looks good. I’m not going to call it in," said Corporal Axely with authority. Then he softened to add, "The big one got the message. That one’s got some street smarts. You won’t see him again."
"What about the other one? And what about that jig girl? In case you forgot, gentlemen, that’s the problem I asked you to help me with." He pointed.
The two state cops shook their heads. "The corporal’s right," one of them said. "Game over, tonight. We’ve done just about all we can get away with." "Got to move out," said the other one, and they did.
"Nothing from the car," said Martinelli, the beefy one with the earphone. "They’re either the best actors I’ve seen in awhile, or they’re clean."
"Baaaah! Maybe I don’t need your service any more, if this is all I get out of it!" groused Turnkey.
Axely held up compromising hands. "We can sit on them awhile longer, if you like. But you have to be realistic, Mr. Turnkey. This isn’t Mississippi in 1950, and we are not the Klan."
"And the little guy is really on the Crimson," said Jankowskii, the other beefy one who worked a security business on his own time. "I had my kid look him up on his computer. He’s red-hot for the plight of the African American, especially a Mr. Michael Ennis Grandville. If that’s really the girl out there, maybe we should get them together. But since he really is a reporter and in the good graces of Harvard, we could be in some deep doo-doo here."
KENDRA (English): How can you be so sure? Because I’m black? I don’t think he thinks much of Asians either. (Japanese): When you were speaking Nihongo, that made him angry.
SARAH (Japanese): Yes, it did make him angry. He understood some of it. But it is still you that should get out of his sight now.
"Exactly," said Axely. "So, if you don’t want to make it any deeper, Mr. Turnkey, why don’t you turn in? Way past your bedtime, I’m sure."
"Why is that old man still out there?" asked Kendra Darjamian. "Looks like half the cops went home, but he’s still out there with your partner. Why is that?"
"I don’t know," Shockley lied. "Someone from across the street."
"He looks like he’s arguing with your partner and his friends. So why isn’t he in handcuffs?"
"He’s old, Ma’am. I don’t know what his problem is, exactly, but right now my job is to keep you out of trouble here. If he goes too far, they’ll take appropriate action." He sold that line well. Axely was a piece of work, but he did his job, well, in his way.
"How did you hook up with Sarah Uer, anyway?" asked Freedman after a long spell of quiet, long enough for the rain to turn into clumps of wet snow.
"I thought you weren’t going to dig for that story."
"I’m not. I just wondered."
"Oh . . ." Maxwell hesitated, but finally said. "Same schools. Hated each other at first. Still fight all the time."
"Kendra’s kind of like that, I think."
"Yeah. I’ve noticed," said Maxwell, with a brief, sour laugh. "I don’t know about you, but what I’m really sorry about now is not going to the bathroom before I left."
The rivals for Kendra Darjamian laughed together, for a moment.
"How did you know I was pregnant?" Kendra asked again.
"We just know, okay?" said Sarah’s "little" sister in irritated English. Sarah added in softer Japanese, "You have decided to have it, haven’t you?"
"I haven’t decided anything." Once again Kendra forgot for awhile about the old man arguing with Axely and the other two cops. Switching to Japanese, she asked, "How do you know so much about me? Have I been investigated or something?"
"Yes," said Sarah.
"Yes? You hired a detective? Your family?"
"No. Anyone with a strong connection to my mother is investigated, because it is a connection with Kakû-sama."
"Yes . . . I see, I think," said Kendra. "Are you saying you don’t want me to have it?"
"I would never say that, Darjamian-san. To stop a child, it is always a sad choice."
"Do you know—I guess you do." The blind girl nodded. "I haven’t decided . . . It really wouldn’t be good for Evan. I mean, he would see it like he was being his father or something."
"That is true. But we should tell him. He should know. He has a right to know, even if it is not his decision to make."
"We?" Kendra broke into English again. "Excuse me, but I’m the one that’s pregnant here!"
"So am I," said Sarah—in English.
Shockley’s jaw dropped.
"I know you’ve done it with Kendra, but did you do it with her, too?"
Maxwell thought about slugging Freedman, but on reflection, laughed instead. "’Done it?’ Man, you suck, suck, suck at talkin’ black!"
"I think it’s none of your business, Mr. Freedman. Especially in the back of a cop car that you told me is wired for sound."
"Yeah. I remember. Pretty stupid. But I still need to know. May never get another chance."
Maxwell sighed, and after a pause, said, "I guess you do. Yeah. Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, I guess."
"You did use protection, didn’t you."
"Are you crazy? Any girl with half a brain cell has condoms. You have never gotten any leg, have you?"
"No, I haven’t, Mr. Maxwell," said Freedman. "So I guess that means I’m not a real man."
Maxwell laughed again, but after seeing how tense his little rival was, added some softer, considerate words: "You’re a real man, Mr. Freedman. Probably better for Kendra than I am."
Darnell Freedman said after digesting the peace offering: "I know I’m better for her. But she will never see it, will she?"
Evan Maxwell knew that was true, but he had too large a heart to confirm it to the brave little frog.
The rain had been snow long enough for windshields to be whited out while Axely waited patiently for old man Turnkey to finish his rantings. Martinelli and Jankowskii stayed the course also, but they were on their own time, so they didn’t have to take calls from the watch commander curious about when they might be available for some regular police work. These interruptions did not seem to improve Axely’s mood.
At last the old man seemed to relent. Axely indicated he wanted Martinelli and Jankowskii to stay with Turnkey with a glance and a nod, and started across the street to finish up with the person who claimed she was Sarah Uer and maybe was, and the admittedly good-looking light-skinned problem tenant. There had been a time when Axely might have considered meeting her again, unofficially. But that was before . . .
Gene Turnkey had a final card to play, and played it well, he thought. Just before Axely got passt him, he stepped in front and whispered to him, "You never searched the jig girl. You so sure she isn’t heeled?" He smiled as Axely continued, gun hand creeping down automatically. No way the jig was going to consent to a search . . . the right word, at the right time . . . Turnkey chuckled, when he thought Axely was far enough away.
Kendra was not aware of Axely’s approach, being completely absorbed with the matter of the other prospective child. "When? How long?" Sarah did not respond. "Was it before—"
Sarah cut her off, breaking in using curt Japanese: "The fat one is coming! Do noting to provoke him!"
"I can take care of myself," said Kendra Darjamian, in English, which was unfortunate, because Officer Peter Shockley misunderstood it as a challenge and perhaps the beginning of a fight between the two. He stepped in, or tried to.
Kendra Darjamian’s father, Ken, was not a very good actor, but he was a very, very good martial artist. Kendra had been doing kata since she was three. She reacted without thought when Officer Shockley laid unseen hands on her. Shockley literally did not know who or what hit him.
"What was that?" asked Darnell Freedman. "That was loud!" The cruiser had all but deadened all sound from more than a few feet from the car until that moment.
"Oh Jesus no!" said Evan Maxwell. "Sarah? Sarah? SARAH?" he shouted. Maxwell went on and on with that.
"What’s that? Gunshots?"