As she dressed for the dance, the mirror in her bedroom gave her a Madonna Ciccone wannabe rather than a Bond heroine. Tough and scrappy rather than sleek. Not herself. But a role she could play for an evening.

No one had invited her to the Snowball, of course. Who knew she existed?  But it was a Garfield school dance. Her last.  Her only. And there were plenty of kids going who didn’t have dates. Kids going in groups.  All of the black kids from the Central District were coming in a group, for sure. Late. And a lot of the Asian kids from her part of Beacon Hill would go together in groups after dinner in the International District. Yom would be there with Ed.  A double date with Amanda Ladd and Ron Pitzer. Amanda in her own low-cut black dress. 

 “I can’t understand why you’re driving by yourself, honey. I just worry it won’t be safe coming home.”  Her dad hadn’t told her he was upset about her hair, or even about what she was wearing.  He seemed like he was just trying to act happy she’d decided to go. It was just the two of them, and it had been a long hard year. It was a big deal he had said anything. He rarely spoke now.

She knew that when he’d been a senior in high school—just before Vietnam—no girl without a date would have dared to show her face at a formal dance without an escort and a corsage.  Her parents’ first date was their senior prom.  She knew he had rented a tuxedo, purchased a corsage of white carnations and a couple of chicken Marsala dinners at Lombardi’s Italian Restaurant on Warren Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, and that her Mom had worn turquoise silk shoes dyed to match her dress. Of course, this wasn’t exactly Drake’s senior prom.  And it wasn’t 1964.

She did know he was worried that she was not part of a pack, that her pack had graduated last June and it was—somehow—her parents’ fault that she hadn’t been there with them.  As though her Mom’s death had been just a temporary detour on her path to some swanky East Coast college.

Drake had driven to the dance by herself, parked on one of the streets behind the school, and had a good time.  She’d mostly danced alone or at the edges of groups—younger kids she didn’t really know. But she’d danced for hours. A sweaty night she would not forget.  Janet Jackson, the Pointer Sisters, and the endless Hip Hop that all sounded alike to her. Whatever her classmates were listening to, it wasn’t Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves or Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) or even Like a Virgin

And whatever they thought the Snowball dance was, they had not thought it was a dance where they came as any character other than their college bound selves. Drake had gotten that part wrong.  Yom Chimin was headed to M.I.T. and Amanda Ladd to one of the Claremont Colleges. Drake had missed the SAT, the ACT, and all the merit scholarships. She didn’t really know what she would do after her Annie Lennox tour.  Maybe join the Marine Corps, like her dad.

She walked up through the quiet Garfield corridors after she left the dance.  On the second floor wall, there was the outline of the infamous former Garfield student Jimi Hendrix—a spot where he had kissed, or more likely groped, one of his classmates.  Drake paused, leaning quietly against the lockers, thinking about Hendrix at Garfield. At the end of the science wing, she saw one of the AP girls—maybe Ruth Shaw, the class president—slip into one of the labs.  Like the rest of her crew, she was wearing a backless black dress.  Maybe she was meeting someone?

Drake quietly climbed the stairs to the third floor. Only the night lights were on up here. In the girls’ washroom, she stared into the broken mirror.  Annie Lennox would never have looked so whipped.

As always, the condom machine was broken, condoms scattered all over the sink.  She tucked a couple in her back pocket and wondered, as she often did, why the school charged money for condoms.  Maybe the principal thought kids would value them more if they had to break into the machine to get them. 

She refreshed her deep red lipstick, and reapplied her mascara.  It was after midnight. She could finally go home. 

When she walked into the corridor, one of the AP seniors from Yom’s class—Paul Killien—was standing outside the washroom, palming an unlit joint.  During fall term, she’d taken a semester of American History to make up for the time she’d missed while her Mom was having her last pointless surgeries. Killien had been in the row behind her. She’d always liked the way he looked.  Laughing amber eyes. And a rangy, running-back’s body.

Tonight he was wearing a black shirt and black tie with his jeans. No tuxedo. Maybe he’d gotten the Snowball dress-code wrong too.

She didn’t think he’d been waiting for her, but she wasn’t sure.  They were a long ways from the gym and the dancing.

Killien pointed at the joint, then bowed from the waist.

Drake nodded.  Sharing a joint with Killien would be a perfect end to the evening. In the gym, she’d passed on the flasks of Sloe Gin and the endless bottles of Coke that were mostly Bacardi.  But a little dope and a little Paul Killien would be just fine. 



Chelsea Avenue

In April 1959, Maggie Cunningham thinks she is Superman, or maybe one of the Hardy Boys. Her Chelsea Avenue is a blue-collar, Catholic neighborhood on Detroit’s Eastside that moves to the summer sounds of Van Patrick calling the Tigers and striking Dodge Main fathers grumbling their way through the day’s ration of beer. But Maggie’s nine-year old world has undercurrents that test her commitment to "truth, justice, and the America way." Her friend Nick expects her to be loyal and tough as he buries cats alive, terrorizes the loneliest woman on the block, and ties M-80’s to the tail of his family’s spaniel. Peeing in buckets with him seems less fun as the summer swelters and the strike continues.

In August 1959, playing hide-and-seek with Nick, Maggie finds the decaying body of Helen Reid suspended from rafter of her family garage. Helen has been tortured and hung from her own pink tights. Maggie feels moral responsibility for Helen’s death. Not only has she failed to defend and protect her, she has mocked Helen’s prissiness to entertain the boys.

In September 1959, the twin evils of sex and racism destroy Chelsea Avenue. Nick and his buddies introduce Maggie to sloe gin and to their performance expectations for a girl with no titties. Maggie barely survives the assault and the rage it generates within her world. And, in an event that will transform the lives of all the priests and pharmacists and pub owners who populate this simple, white world, Helen’s father becomes the first person in the neighborhood to sell his home to a black man.

The Detroit toilet bowl flushes. A million whites push out to the suburbs. A few thousand blacks are sucked in. In August 1974, Coleman Young becomes mayor of Detroit and Maggie, now an officer in the Detroit Police Department, finds redemption by solving Helen’s murder and freeing herself from the bonds of a neighborhood that has stolen her soul.


Pink Mist [excerpt]

     Before the judge and jury returned to the courtroom, Svetlana, looking like a high school sophomore in her round collared white blouse and plaid skirt, burst through the door. Liz took her hand and guided the girl back to the witness stand. The television news team slipped back into place.

     The guard who brought Darrell Trent back into the courtroom wore a rumpled uniform and fumbled with his keys as he removed Trent’s cuffs. Not a guard Liz knew.

     Osborne poured Trent a glass of water as the jurors filed back into the courtroom.

     Liz again took her place at the end of the jury box, using her distance from the witness stand to force Svetlana to speak loudly enough for the jurors to hear her. It was important that the jury follow—and trust—the girl’s next statements. “Mrs. Trent, were you a virgin when you married Mr. Trent?”

     Although Liz had told the girl she would need to answer this question—and others— Svetlana hesitated. The hardest part of proving a woman has been sexually abused is that the woman needed to take the witness stand and describe things no woman would ever voluntarily choose to describe. “Yes…Miss Cunningham. I was. His email say virgin only. Important to Darrell. Very. Before he come to Smolensk he send money for doctor. For virgin exam. Then Darrell call doctor to make sure I tell truth.”

     Liz paused to let the jury think about Svetlana’s answer. “Did your husband make love to you on your wedding night, Mrs. Trent?”

     “I think…yes, I think so.” “You think so?” “Yes, no…I'm not sure.” The girl sighed. “My husband’s how do you call it—his member—did not get very hard that night, so I don't know for sure.”

     Liz expected Osborne to object, although there was nothing objectionable in Svetlana’s statement. Just another embarrassing fact.

     “Did your husband’s member ever get hard?”

     “Oh, yes. He beats me, he gets hard.”

     Liz saw several of the jurors write this statement in their trial notebooks.

     “Would you describe the first time he beat you, Mrs. Trent?”

     “It was night we come to the Seattle house. I was sitting on edge of bed, brushing my hair, counting strokes. My husband start to shout. He say nasty things, mostly about how dirty house is.” “How many hours had you been in the house, Mrs. Trent?” “Four, five…I’m not sure. We had been flying for so long.”

     “Had you time to clean?”

     “Oh, no. Just to begin. Real cleaning take many days.”

     “What happened after your husband started to shout?”

     “He throw hairbrush across room. Break mirror over dresser…glass everywhere. Darrell tear my nightgown down the front, throw it in corner, and pull me off bed. Then…he pick me up and carry me down stairs. Down to basement.” Svetlana shuddered and began to cry for the first time. Liz couldn’t have imagined Svetlana looking younger, but in that moment she did.

     “Had you been in the basement before, Mrs. Trent?”

     “No. First time. White walls and a…a big metal ring in floor. There in cement. My husband took metal cuffs…handcuffs…from his pocket and attach me to ring.”

     “You were naked, Mrs. Trent?”

     “Oh, yes, and cold…too cold.”

      “And were you on your back or your stomach?”

     Svetlana Trent paused and looked at her husband. “Stomach. He tell me I too ugly to look at. But now I know it something else.” As Svetlana spoke, her eyes grew wide.

     Liz turned to look over her right shoulder at Trent.

     Darrell Trent stood, screaming wordlessly at his wife, then he turned toward his attorney and plunged something repeatedly into Osborne’s neck, just below his ear. Blood spurted over Osborne’s collar and suit jacket, drenching Trent’s hands and the sleeves of his green suit.

     The jail guard rushed to help Osborne, pulling him out of Trent’s grasp. As he did so, Trent wrenched the guard’s service revolver from his holster and came around the right side of the defense table toward Svetlana.

     Trent screamed a second time, sounding more like a wounded animal than a man. Liz froze at the end of the bar, but Svetlana rose to meet him, standing after years of cringing.

     Trent fired the revolver twice, hitting her squarely in the chest. Svetlana crumpled on the stairs to the witness stand with a last soft sigh.

     Trent turned and aimed the gun at Liz. She looked into his bloodshot, piggy eyes and held her breath. He laughed, placed the muzzle of the guard’s service revolver in his mouth, and fired a third and final time.


Judicial Discretion [excerpt]

     Liz paused, unnerved, trying to imagine why Kihara, after years of working with her, would be trying to protect her from viewing a crime scene. “Oh, please, Kihara, it’s not as though I need Vicks Vapo-Rub under my nose every time you take me to an autopsy.”

     Kihara was silent. His body still.

     Exasperated, and trying to suppress her growing disquiet, she pushed past him into the restroom.

     Her uncle, the Honorable James Kelleher of the King County Superior Court was slumped in a dark pool in the corner, garishly spotlighted by the single, caged fluorescent bulb. She lunged forward to take him into her arms. Kihara caught her shoulders, forcibly pulling her back to his chest. Liz, at first struggling to breathe and straining to reach her uncle, finally sagged, allowing Kihara to hold her as they both took in the tableau arranged before them.

     James Kelleher was wearing the burgundy tie Liz had given him for Christmas. It was still knotted neatly on what had been a starched blue oxford cloth shirt. But now the shirt and chest were shredded, marked with a pattern of powder burns and blood seepage that could only mean someone had fired many small caliber shots at her uncle's chest—with accuracy and at close range. Her uncle's soft gray suit jacket lay in a heap beside him, and his matching trousers and striped boxer shorts were gathered around his ankles. Liz shuddered.

     The women’s restroom was as dank as ever--the pragmatic gray concrete, stained by years of rain and beginning to grow moss at the north end, never seemed clean. Now, red streaks glistened on the concrete wall, marking the path her uncle’s body had traveled to the floor. His pale blue eyes were open and Liz couldn’t help thinking he looked mildly amused. She tried to speak, but found she could make no sound.

     Packages of condoms had been strewn over her uncle's body and the concrete floor surrounding it. Trojan. Life Style. Sheik. Jungle Desire. Liz closed her eyes, buried her face in the rough wool of Kihara’s sport coat, and moaned, aware she was invading a region too personal for any niece.

     James Kelleher was a gay man. As far as Liz knew, her uncle was a monogamous man who had lived quietly with Frank Locricchio for more than thirty years. For more than twenty of those years, Liz had lived with them. And now. . . .



Copyright Sam Gaynor, 2017

All rights reserved.  The moral right of the author has been asserted.