Warning: Mature Content
Aria opened eyes, dry and crusty from crying. She felt as if she had cried a lifetime of tears but she knew it had only been days since she’d been told that her Andre was gone.
And the way that he died? People would be talking about that for years to come. It would be ages before she’d be able to walk out in public with her head up. She just knew that gossips were having a field day and practically salivating over the fact that her fiancé had been found dead and naked in some shit ass motel in south Memphis. If Andre weren’t already dead, she would be tempted to kill him herself.
Now everyone is expecting me to go to this funeral and play the role of grieving fiancé. She looked down at the photograph crushed in her hand and her 10-carat diamond engagement ring winked up at her. An image of the day Andre presented the ring to her came back to her but was quickly replaced by the memory of those other pictures hidden in the bottom drawer of her desk. She pushed up off the bed, fighting against a renewed rush of tears. She threw open the closet door and felt some satisfaction as it slammed against the wall. She fought to breathe, heart hammering. How she would get through the next few days, she didn’t know.
Detectives Caleb Jones and Harvey Miller stood sentry in the foyer of the Church of Saint Mary. They watched the procession of mourners flow in and out of the chapel. The family had opted for a public wake to accommodate the needs of the community to say good-bye. The funeral services, however, would be reserved for family and close friends.
“It’ll be interesting to see who shows up today, don’t you think?” Harvey asked, eyes assessing each person walking through the door.
“Definitely. I don’t suppose it would be too much to ask that the killer, overcome with remorse, would prostrate himself on the altar?”
“Or she. I hear Pierce was quite the ladies man.”
Before Caleb could respond, his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He checked the LED display and saw that it was a call from Jacquee. He debated for half a second, and then flipped open the phone.
“Yeah, hey sweetie.”
“Don’t sweetie me!” She yelled at him so loudly that Caleb pulled the phone away from his ear. She was angry again. Now what?
“Honey. I don’t have time for this right now. I’m working.” That brought on another round of expletives. Caleb struggled to hold on to his own temper.
She continued as if he’d never spoken.
“Jacquee, I’m hanging up now. Jacquee,” He was getting fed up with this constant abuse. “No, I’m not sure when I’ll be home. I’m at the funeral.”
Her tone instantly softened. She expressed sympathy for the family and then asked if the Judge and his family had arrived.
“I think I see their limo pulling up now. I really have to get off the phone.” He paused for a moment and then, “Hell no, I’m not asking him to autograph a program.”
Caleb snapped the phone closed and then scratched the back of his head. He was beginning to question his attraction to that woman.
Harvey walked over to him and swatted him hard on the shoulder. “C’mon man. We’re up.”
The limo pulled into the circular drive of the church. The driver came around and opened the door. After a few moments, they saw the senior Judge Pierce emerge from the car. He pulled himself to his full height and stared for a few seconds at the front of the church. Caleb watched his eyes fill with tears then just as quickly, brushed away.
Judge Pierce turned back to the car and extended a hand to his wife. Eula Pierce was more conservatively dressed than the last time Caleb saw her. Her plain black dress and low functional heels gave her a more subdued persona. Her hair was pulled away from her face and is covered by a classic Jackie O pill box hat. She was followed out of the car an older couple. And even though the four of them stood speaking softly to each other besides the car, Caleb did not fail to notice how Eula set herself away from them. Caleb was about to step forward to assist them when a long pair of legs emerged from the car.
They were the longest pair of legs Caleb would swear he’d ever seen. The feet were encased in a pair of black patent leather pumps. The well-defined legs were sheathed in black silk stockings. Caleb allowed his eyes to travel up the legs until they met with the hem of fluffy silk dress, also in black.
Her feet finally met the pavement and Caleb held his breath to see what would come next. She bent at the waist to unfold herself from the car and Caleb caught a glimpse of a pair of full red lips underneath a broad black hat. He eagerly anticipated the face hidden beneath the hat. She was assisted from the car by the older man, to whom she flashed a quick smile of gratitude. She then turned to face the waiting crowd.
The vision scanned the crowd until she met Caleb’s gaze head on, almost as if she’d been searching for him. He drank in a pair of endless brown pools. Harvey stumbled into him and interrupted fantasies he didn’t know he had.
“Pull yourself together, man.” He whispered harshly at his side.
Judge Pierce led the group into the chapel. He paused to acknowledge Caleb and Harvey and introduced the members of his party.
“You’ve already met Eula. This is Carson and Elizabeth Douglas and their daughter, Aria. Aria and Andre were engaged.”
Ah, Caleb thought to himself.
Aria walked up to him and rested a hand on his arm. “I hope you find the bastard who did this to my Andre.” Caleb watched huge milk chocolate eyes fill with tears and heard a small, delicate sob escape those beautiful red lips. “It hurts so bad. We were going to spend the rest of our lives together. We were supposed to have a lifetime. And now he’s been taken away from me.” She was nearly wailing by the time she finished. Her father wrapped a protective arm around her and pulled her into the chapel.
Aria’s parents comforted her as they slowly walked her down the aisle towards the front pew. Eula trailed behind them. Caleb was surprised by how quiet Eula was, even during the introductions. She had been almost stoic and subdued.
Judge Pierce lingered behind. “My apologies, detectives. We, each of us, are having a hard time making sense of this.” Caleb could see the pain behind his words and tried to understand. Judge Pierce was all that was left of his family. He also had to experience what Caleb imagined would be difficult for any parent. Judge Pierce was about to bury his only son.
“Please, detective, I know you’re working hard, but please, we need to know, no, I need to know who did this to my son.”
“We’re doing our best, sir.”
With one final nod, he turned and followed his family into the chapel.
Caleb and Harvey remain at their post, watching the crowds of people come in and out, paying their final respects. The political attendees were obvious. They tended to work the room, glad handing everyone they saw, and giving well-timed, well-practiced looks of remorse.
Close family and friends came in, and looking almost shell-shocked, with bruised red-eyes. They entered in pairs or groups and shared grief through hugs and hand holding.
Caleb was curious however, about the third group. It was mostly comprised of men, with one or two women included. Their eyes were cold. They walked in proudly, almost strolling. They had an almost angry triumph in their eyes as they made their way to the open casket, looked in briefly and then turned away in satisfaction.
“Hey, there’s the Director.” The two of them watched Police Director James Hardaway make his way towards the front where he exchanged hugs with various members of the family.
“He and the judge are supposed to be really tight.”
“Yeah, I heard. They’ve been friends since they were kids.”
Courtney Bowers came in with several others who looked as if they may be co-workers in Pierce’s court. She paused in front of Caleb and offered her cheek for a kiss before passing into the chapel with her friends. Like many before her, she looked bruised and anxious but she was back to her normal, ultra conservative, plain Jane attire.
“There are an awful lot of single women coming through here.” Harvey remarked and Caleb tended to agree. They didn’t appear to be there to provide support for the family. In fact, they came in and sat near the back, not speaking and hardly looking anywhere except the front of the chapel. At the casket
There was a commotion from inside the chapel. Caleb and Harvey ran inside in time to see Aria slapping the face of one of the young women Caleb had seen arrive earlier. Before anyone could think to move, the young woman jumped on top of Aria. The force of her assault threw them both to floor where they slid a couple feet on the polished marble floor. When they stopped, the woman punched Aria over and over in the face.
Aria covered her face with one arm and with the other, reached out for one of the flower stands. With a sharp tug, the bouquet fell on the other’s head. Caleb winced at the metallic twang that filled the chapel when the brass candelabra hit the floor. While her opponent was distracted, Aria pulled herself from underneath.
Aria avoided the capturing hands of her father by moving to the other side of the downed woman. She then began to kick her in the ribs as hard as she could.
With a grunt, the other woman grabbed Aria’s foot before it could make contact again and threw her off balance. Judge Pierce caught her before she could fall on the floor. Aria shook the judge off and faced the woman, who had by now regained her footing.
They ran towards each other again, coming together with an audible thump. Caleb could now see hair pulling, clothes ripping and wildly swinging fists.
Several members of the congregation stood up and egged on their favorite. Others stood staring in horror. Judge Pierce and Carson Douglas made another attempt to separate the women when Carson was knocked flat on his backside when he failed to duck a flying fist.
Eula stood to the side, her face buried in her hands. Caleb wondered if she had finally been overcome by grief, when she lifted her head. No, she wasn’t crying. She was laughing. She was laughing so hard that she had trouble maintaining her balance. Her tears of mirth were the first Caleb had seen from her since the night of the murder. She was practically bent over with laughter. When the elder Douglas was hit, she actually stood up on a pew for a better view.
After what seemed an eternity, Caleb and Harvey finally made it to the front. Caleb grabbed Aria from behind and restrained her arms. Harvey had less success containing the other woman who, taking advantage of Caleb’s hold on Aria, sucker punched her in the jaw.
Both women were breathing heavily. Caleb looked down at Aria and saw the beginning of a black eye and a split lip. The other woman hadn’t fared much better. She had deep gouges forming on her face and forearms. Her bodice was torn to the waist. One of the ushers hurried forward with a cloth to drape over her nakedness.
The other woman was crying hysterically but she continued to pull against Harvey’s hold on her arms. Aria was equally angry, but cold and unyielding.
“How fucking dare you show your face here, Carla Parks! You are nothing but trash. I am his fiancé, you trifling skank, I’m wearing his ring. You don’t belong here.”
“The only skank I see is you, Aria Douglas. I have just as much right to be here as you. You know he was about to dump your ass. You just mad because he proposed to me.”
Her response elicited a gasp from others in the chapel. “See.” She wiggled her fingers to proudly display her 10-carat diamond.
Eula was practically under the pews. She seemed to have trouble breathing, still overcome with laughter.
Caleb gestured for Harvey to remove Ms. Parks from of the chapel . Once the door closed behind her, Aria turned into the arms of her father, bawling. Judge Pierce snatched up Eula by the arm and hustled her out of the side door.
“Well, hell.” Nobody summed up a situation like Harvey Miller.
The chapel was restored to order but many in the congregation were leaving. They weren’t grieving an longer but whispered to each other in excitement as the walked out the door. Caleb suspected that the phone lines would be tied up for hours as they buzzed over the fight at Judge Pierce’s wake.
The outer door opened and a man walked in. It took Caleb a moment to recognize him. When he did, he came immediately to attention.
Former chief of detectives, with MPD. Most recently a guest of the federal penitentiary program.
“What’s up, Detective Jones?”
“Hello, Rasheed. What are you doing here?”
“Well, I heard there was a funeral. I’ve come by to pay my respects.”
“The family is grieving. They are having a hard enough time dealing with this. Let’s not make it harder for them than it has to be.”
“Difficult for them?” Rasheed almost stuttered the question. Rasheed’s face flushed bright red, his nostrils flared, and there was a small string of spittle hanging from the corner of his mouth. It was disconcerting to watch. Rasheed had been one of the coolest, laid-back people Caleb knew.
“What about me, huh? What about the four years of my life spent rotting in that rathole? While Mr. Big Shot sat around, living large, like nothing has happened. What about me? From where I’m standing, it looks pretty easy to me.”
“I know, Rasheed, but now is not the time. Okay? There will be other opportunities.”
His brief explosion of anger was spent. He pulled a crisp white linen handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his mouth. He was once again the self-confident man Caleb had always known. He seemed to nod to himself and then looked over Caleb’s shoulder towards the front of the chapel.
“That’s fine, man. You’re right. Ain’t no point in disturbing the family right now. I got what I needed to know anyway.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”
“The bitch is dead.”
Well now, Caleb’s ‘routine’ investigation is turning into something else altogether, isn’t it?
Who is your prime suspect? Has it changed since last week? I’d love to know why and your reasoning, so please drop me a comment and let me hear what you’re thinking.
Come back next week, June 14 for Chapter 3!