FF&M Universe: The Woman Who Knew Just Enough – To Be Killed

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Tricia Rivers was on the cusp of breaking a large story about a rash of unexplained deaths and disappearances among the homeless population of the Washington, D.C. metro area. For the last year, she had been tracking down leads as to the potential killer in the community. She had first learned about the missing while volunteering the previous summer at the W.E.B. DuBois North D.C. community center. Her adopted work mom, Ms. Fay, had been worried that a couple of regulars had missed their meals and their beds in over a week. Tricia suggested in her naïveté that since they were homeless that made them more likely to be transient at least that’s what she had been taught at Georgetown.

Ms. Fay taught her that when White folk used the word, transient, it meant that they didn’t care enough to find out what had happened to the Black folk. Besides, these two had been coming to the DuBois center like clockwork for the last three years. No, she knew something was wrong. A week later, Ms. Fay informed Tricia that three more regulars had stopped showing up. Ms. Fay was deeply disturbed. Evil surely had a hand in the matter. Ms. Fay produced a pocket-sized Bible from her purse and handed it to Tricia.

“Dear but for the grace of God go we! You must be weary and have your affairs straightened with the Lord at all times because you never know how close Lucifer himself is.”

The worry on Ms. Fay’s face was contagious and Tricia volunteered to help her look for the missing.

Ms. Fay and Tricia began their search that night after their shift at the community center. Tricia was excited at the prospect of working on her first true journalism piece. Though she was convinced that the missing would turn up at other shelters, the case remained that very little was known about these people. Society preferred ignorance. The homeless were just the terrifying flashes of a nightmare that everyone would just as soon forget. Tricia would work to make sure that they were not forgotten especially here in the nation’s capital.

Her mission was soon frustrated. There were no good leads. The sleuthing pair visited the known, makeshift communities located inside of abandoned buildings and long-forgotten metro station access tunnels. No one knew had seen the missing in weeks. The search remained fruitless until Ms. Fay caught a lucky break. A regular at the center had approached her with information about the missing five. He was friends with two of the men. He informed Ms. Fay that they had both been patients at the methadone clinic. A little more digging, as Ms. Fay called it, revealed that they were all methadone patients at the same clinic. It quickly became the focal point of their investigation.

The pair decided to split their efforts. While Ms. Fay attempted to contact as many of the methadone clinic patients as possible, Tricia turned her research skills to the clinic. A few weeks passed, but Tricia could not gather much information on the clinic. It was a relatively new joint-venture between the local, district government and a recently formed Delaware based Limited Liability Company whose fictitious name was “Metro Treatment Facilities, LLC”. A more generic name was impossible. The LLC’s sole member was yet another Delaware based LLC by the name of “MTF Holding, LLC”. Both companies had been created a year earlier and other than an agent of service, one Attorney Carson Brown, and a P.O. Box, she could find nothing further.

Tricia met up with Ms. Fay to discuss her findings. She arrived at the Dubois center one afternoon after her classes had ended for the day and found Ms. Fay in the kitchen. Ms. Fay was pure nerves. Without speaking a word, she motioned for Tricia to follow her into an unoccupied residence room.

“What’s wrong Ms. Fay?”

“Oh Dear, we’ve got to stop this now! They might be…” Ms. Fay shook her head as she grappled with the sinister revelation, breaking quickly into quiet prayer.

“What are you talking about, Ms. Fay? What’s happened?”

“Dear, I met with one of the nurses at the clinic. She told me that she knows something is wrong. She’s seen regulars being taken from the dispensary window line and brought in for immunizations of some sort. She’s worked in these clinics for years and she’s never seen something like that, at least not without it being announced to the staff, in some way. She told me that she got curious one morning before the dispensary opened and she snuck into where all of the vaccines were being kept, only she didn’t find anything. It didn’t make sense to her. She says that vaccines are all kept there, under lock and key, to ensure proper procedures are followed. They are supposed to be logged into a logbook, a computer too, but that didn’t happen either. Later in the morning, one of the doctors shows up and begins administering the vaccines. She approached the doctor and questioned him about the vaccines. Well, he apparently got angry at her and the head nurse threatened to fire her for insubordination. She doesn’t like what is going on there and thinks it has something to do with the missing people.

“What does she think is really going on then?” Tricia probed.

“She doesn’t know hun. She’s just suspicious. She noticed that the patients who’d been getting vaccines were coming back for checkups and were suffering migraines. Then they all stopped coming one by one, apparently twelve so far.”

The news was shocking. What the hell was going on at that place? All they had was suspicion, some missing homeless people, a possibly disgruntled nurse, and a methadone clinic. These were not exactly facts that would make for a solid story and certainly nothing to go to the police about. Her journalistic zeal was giving way to something else, something that inhabited Ms. Fay’s eyes, face, and voice: fear. Tricia sat in her apartment later that night and reviewed the facts. She stared at the scant information about the clinic, pausing at the agent of service, Attorney Carson Brown. She entered his name into an internet search engine and found several hits, only one of which was registered with the Delaware Bar. Peculiarly, she found him to be a pretty high-powered partner at the firm of Bodner James, specializing in Intellectual Property within the Biotech Industry. So why would he be the listed agent of service for a single methadone clinic in the heart of D.C.’s Northwest? She decided to talk to her primary source. Unbeknownst to her, she was a dead woman as soon as she dialed the number.

Tricia believed that she was taking ample precaution by making up a cover story about a slip and fall that had occurred at the clinic. She harassed the attorney’s secretary enough over the next several weeks that she was finally patched through to Atty. Brown himself. She knew enough about journalism to know that once you had a potential, hostile source on the line, the only way you held their attention was by hitting them with enough facts to make them squirm, and by showing them that you were not to be ignored.

She opened with her ace and informed Atty. Brown about the possible illegal human trial being conducted at the clinic. Atty. Brown was silent.

Tricia asked, “Do I have your attention Atty. Brown?”

“Thank you for your concern. Ms. Rivers is it?” Tricia froze. “I am relieved to hear that you were not hurt in an unfortunate accident in my client’s facility. But do be careful. I hear that the neighborhood is not so safe. Have a nice day.”

Tricia remained frozen long after the call cut out. Now she was terrified. After enduring a sleepless night alone in her apartment, Tricia skipped classes and went instead to the shelter to talk to Ms. Fay. She and Ms. Fay agreed that it would be best to just leave the mystery well enough alone. Ms. Fay begged Tricia to stop coming around altogether, to concentrate on school, and to surround herself with the good White folk of Georgetown. She’d be safe there. Tricia obliged.

A few months later, as the fall semester wound to a close and the spring semester appeared on the horizon, Tricia’s fears had all but dissipated. She slowly forced herself to forget about the past summer, the Dubois center, and her journalistic mystery, but at night, alone in her apartment, she still jumped at shadows and startled at unidentified noises. She had once cherished her solitude, but now she longed for the company and relative security of a roommate.

The holidays washed away the last remnants of fear as the joyous festivities drove those from her mind. A night of drunken celebration, at Georgetown’s New Year’s party, found her reveling in the arms of a new and unexpected beau: a sweet, older guy, John, whom she’d met through mutual friends, at a bar, a couple of weeks prior. He was a divorcee who was now trying to find his way in life. He was kind-hearted, gentle, and heartbroken. His world had been taken from him. His ex-wife had taken custody of his daughter and fled to London to be with her British aristocratic parents who disapproved of their daughter’s union to the American. He was a hurt soul who she could nurse back to health. John had been a military man, a Marine, and he made those sleepless nights instantly disappear. Tricia took comfort in his muscular arms as she lay upon his strong chest. John’s firm hands softly combed through her hair, coming to a rest on the nape of her delicate neck and as she faded to her soothing slumber she inhaled his manly musk, a calming scent. She was safe.

© J. Manuel Writes

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FF&M Universe: The Good Doctor

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Like most of their neighbors, José and Maria Elena Monte Albán were migrant workers, who left their humble home in 1980 for the hope of a better future in the United States. They had no formal education but José and Maria Elena read their Bible with devotion. Between the two, they had read it hundreds of times over and could recite it by memory. The faithful couple traveled by bus from Guadalajara, Jalisco to Nogales, Mexico on a journey that was as long as it was treacherous, covering a distance of some 1700 kilometers. They paid for the bus-fare with what little they had, and took their few, precious possessions with them, knowing that they would never return to their home. They exchanged farewells with their family members and promised to write when they arrived.

The three day trip would span Mexico on the Pan American Highway. They had only ever dreamed of such a trip and now they were aboard a bus destined towards a new life. José called it their Canaan. At the end of the first day of travel, the bus stopped in a little town for the night. The driver needed his sleep. He assured everyone that they would make good time the next day. The passengers were more than happy to partake in the unexpected detour because the bus was hot, steamy, with no air-conditioner, or working bathroom. There had been moments when the occupants had wondered if the bus would even make it out of Guadalajara let alone reach the border, but José and Maria Elena’s prayers willed the overcrowded bus along the journey, flat-tire after flat-tire, frequent overheating pit-stops.

José and Maria Elena paid for a small room for the night at a small inn down the street from the bus station and went to sleep. They were hungry but since they did not know the town, they were a little weary of wandering off in the dark. They had been warned by all of their family and friends that the trip was dangerous and that there were bandidos in the roadways, who lurked for unsuspecting country-folk. After several hours of sleep, José was awoken by a crashing sound that came from out in the hallway. No sooner had he opened the door, than three men rushed into the room and knocked him unconscious. What followed was a horrific rape and beating for Maria Elena. The three men ravaged her repeatedly through the night. Sometimes taking turns and sometimes not, she endured the horror without a scream as they held a gun to her husband’s temple. She prayed that he would not wake up. Mercifully he did not.

The morning came and José regained his consciousness. The men disappeared into the night as quickly as they had come. Maria Elena managed to cover José’s head wounds with strips of a night gown that she had brought with her. The gown’s remnants, now covered in tacky, rusted blood, lay balled near the foot of the bed. He muttered her name and asked what had happened but she reminded him that their bus was going to leave soon. Her tears burned down the corner of her eyes as they salted her still fresh wounds. She told José everything that had happened how the men had knocked him down and beat him. How they had turned on her and demanded money. She had resisted and they beat her for it. Finally she had no choice but to give them the money. She was sorry that she had lost the money and that they would have to continue their trip without it. José cried but did not ask anything else.

The two boarded the bus, a bit disheveled, but still clinging to their Bible, as desperately as they clung to hope. “Dios esta con nosotros” they prayed from Psalm 23. Maria Elena looked around the bus and made fleeting eye contact with several women, kindred spirits, who’d endured the previous night’s suffering. She prayed that much harder. The couple arrived in Nogales the next day and prepared for the crossing. They sat with some of the other passengers in a vacant warehouse in the center of town. A day passed before their coyote, came to guide them through the next leg of their journey.

What followed was a two week, forty-mile trek through arduous, arid desert terrain where scorpions scurried underfoot, and where rattlers coiled tensely beneath underbrush waiting for a careless passerby. José and Maria Elena tried their best to keep up with their party but faltered due to their wounds. The couple was abandoned by their guide and their group soon gave up trying to encourage them. They were left behind, but not alone, for they knew that God was with them. Their faith carried their battered, crippled, dry bodies forward. They would reach the promise land, they knew it. After enduring several infernal days and bone chilling nights in the great vastness of the desert, they stumbled upon a ranch-house. The weary, wayworn, wandering pair fell on the front door steps of a rickety home barely able to muster the strength to knock.

The woman of the house helped them in and gave them food and water. She was an angel of God, Maria Elena assured her. The two were welcomed to stay until they were strong enough to continue their journey. A week went by and the widow confided in the couple that she was not long for this world and that she would be more than happy to make this her last good deed before she met her maker. She handed José the keys to her late husband’s pickup truck. It had been filled-up and tuned-up the year before, the day her husband passed. They thanked the saintly widow for her generosity and climbed aboard the pickup which started right up. Where would they go?

Maria Elena answered the question, “Dios dirá!”

She opened the glove compartment and found a map. California, Los Angeles. That is where God wanted them to go. José followed Maria Elena’s directions, which God had chosen for them, and the couple found their way through the desert, to the City of Angels. Eight and a half months later, Emmanuel was born. José knew that they had been blessed with their only child, a boy, to carry on his name. God was with them even through their darkest moment. José and Maria Elena would see this gift from God grow-up to be a brilliant young doctor, a scientist, a prince among men. So when he informed them that he wanted to study the origins of life, the two smiled at him and told him how he came into being.

“La vida no se entiende. Lo unico que uno puede hacer, es horar a Dios para que le de la sabiduria para hacer sus obras.” José and Maria Elena assured him that life was not to be understood. The only thing that a person could do was pray to God to give him the wisdom to do God’s work. Dr. Monte Albán would come to understand the lesson that his parents had learned so many years prior, that in his darkest hours, when all seemed lost, God had already worked a solution, a gift to the world.

© J. Manuel Writes

FF&M Universe: The Marksman

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Tim was the eldest of ten kids born to a pair of wilderness-loving hippies in the northern woods of Maine. They were raised without television in the home. Their only electronic escape was a radio tuned to NPR. He was an avid reader who showed gifted potential by the time that he was in kindergarten. Tim graduated high-school at the age of fifteen as the class valedictorian. He was courted by several good universities, Dartmouth among them, but Tim showed no interest in attending. He’d never shown the slightest interest in school, or much of anything else, other than reading his books and writing in his journals. He’d gotten the good grades for his parents but he hadn’t tried much at that either.

Tim wasn’t what you would call a hard-worker. Hard, wasn’t an adjective anyone would use to describe him. Everything about him, including his Jimmy Stewartesque affect, was delicate and gentle. He never resisted, never confronted, but rather flowed like one of the many streams that meandered through the very same woods in which he often wandered. He was pliable but never compliant. For all of his easy ways, Tim bore a subtle steadfastness which granted him liberty in all things. He was excruciatingly aware of this, his greatest flaw. He was a dreamer, a romantic, a poet who yearned for an odyssey to pen. Where was his Scylla? His Charybdis? His Circe? Could he summon good fortune or would he toil perpetually like Sisyphus? And so, at the tender age of sixteen, Tim decided to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, whose lore he’d devoured through the countless words he’d read.

Tim awoke on the morning of his 16th birthday at 5am. He rose out of his bed, laid his bare chest against the cold, oaken floor and pushed feebly against the timbers. His arms strained mightily against gravity to no avail. Undaunted, he slipped past his four, slumbering brothers and headed down the hallway past his five sleeping sisters, and finally his parents’ bedroom. Cocoa, the chocolate lab, snored, unbothered by the creaking of the opening front-door. Once outside, Tim stretched his gaunt frame and propelled its 90lbs forward in a stork-like gate. Tim covered a quarter mile before his pounding chest, throbbing temples, burning calves, and an unfamiliar acidic taste forming at the back of his throat, compelled him to stop.

Hands on his knees, he smiled, and ran the path back to his front door. Tomorrow he would go further. His morning routine remained until the morning of his eighteenth birthday. By then he barely acknowledged gravity’s press and his morning runs were limitless affairs. Tim awoke on the morning of his eighteenth birthday, slipped past his siblings, and silently crept into his parents’ room. He walked over to his father and thanked him for his love of Homer and Joyce. He glided to his mother’s bedside and expressed his love as only a son could. Wiping a few tears from his cheeks, he placed a sealed envelope on her nightstand. Tim blew the pair a silent kiss and crossed the threshold of the front door for the last time. He paused by Cocoa’s headstone, left her his first copy of The Iliad, and broke out into a jog.

He ran the ten miles into town as he had every morning for the last year. His slender, wiry frame of gnarled muscle covered the hilly distance in under an hour. He made the 6 a.m. bus from Caribou to Portland with a few minutes to spare, his destination, the United States Military Entrance Processing Station. Two days later he’d be on his way to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

A few hours later, his mother opened her eyes and saw the envelope on her nightstand. Inside she found a farewell note and a few choice poems that Tim explained would help her in her time of need. She also found a small calendar with the date August, Friday the 13th, circled in crimson ink and the words, always faithful, written underneath. She smiled, turned, and threw her arms around her husband. They had done well.

© J. Manuel Writes

FF&M Universe: Lilith

“There she is. The mother of things to come…”

The two scientists, one, boyish-faced, beaming with the brilliance of a still unwritten future, the other, drawn, his fatigue visible in the waning light of his career, stared at the screen in front of them as those words drifted away fading to distant echoes in the resonant laboratory chamber. She was the first success. Finally, after years of research and toil, the trial and error had paid-off. The result: this magnificent creation, the first of her kind.

“Lilith.”

She was elegant, simple, and strong, as they had imagined her. Her long, black arms reached out beside her, twelve in total. There she lay, suspended, unmoving, yet animated with the halted breath of anticipation. Swirling visions of her possible, miraculous applications calmed at her still presence.

“She is capable.”

“You think?”

“I do.”

“Does she – ”

“I think so – ”

“Let’s find out.”

Lilith moved.

© J. Manuel Writes