Chapter 1: Percy’s Lounge
Boom, bam, boom, rhythmic sounds like African drums echoed! They came again: boom, bam, boom, much louder, purposeful and penetrating. My repose was rudely awakened. A grease-speckled white paper plate with a half-eaten slice of pizza rested on the coffee table to my left. On the floor to my right, within arm’s reach of my La-Z-Boy chair, where I’d passed out, stood an uncorked bottle of merlot and a glass, at most, with a swig left, which was uncommon, knowing my penchant for savoring my beverage to its last drop.
Another round of drumming ensued, and my attention veered to its source. The pinned calendar on my front door went tumbling to the floor—Ms. October was now a doormat. Sorry, babe! Above the television stand, my clock flashed 11:34pm. The last I recalled, it wasn’t a weekend night, but the first evening of the workweek. Apartment 4F, Percy’s Lounge, was closed almost twenty-four now. Gingerly, I made it to my feet, narrowly avoiding trampling the wine glass—my faculties were still in snooze mode.
While wobbling toward the front door, I smiled, momentarily escaping the purpose of my march, ogling Ms. October spread at my feet. She was laced in a scanty swimsuit and sprawled on a white sandy beach, inviting me to her wholesome company.
“Who is this…?” I bellowed.
“Police,” responded a grating voice. “Open now, before…”
Hearing the word police slapped me a sobering, yet, perplexed countenance. I froze in midstride.
“Wrong apartment,” I replied in circumspect.
“If you’re Percy Patterson, and this is apartment 4F, open this door immediately,” a raspy voice said. They were correct on both counts—Percy’s Lounge reluctantly had some after-hours visitors.
“Hold on,” I yelled. “Show me some ID!”
With caution, I peered through my peephole. Two men in suits stood with badges hung from their necks, one with arms crossed against his chest and the other had his hands in his pockets. Their glares seemed menacing, dogged, frigid—this did not look good, ‘What the fuck?’ Baffled at their presence, my mind raced to the purpose of this visit, not that I’d anything to be concerned about, but cops in this neighborhood were never good news. From what I knew, all was quiet on this side of town, but again, this was Hollis, the Southside of Queens, in the midst of a recovery from an epidemic of drug-related turf wars, with all the illicit traffic it harbored.
In apprehension, I proceeded to unlock the door, keeping the chain latch hooked. A bad dream would have suited me fine, given the scene outside, but at worst, I hoped for a cursory inquiry, without an entrance into Percy’s Lounge.
The two officers, one black, and the other white, flashed their badges, demanding that I unhook the latch. I obliged. Without the courtesy of my invitation, they marched into my cave. Their contemptuous entrance elevated my concerns, but this was the hood, and not Jamaica Estates, the more privileged gated community, just a half mile north of Hollis, where a warrant would be de facto before enduring their company. Furthermore, not only was their entrance militant, but Ms. October became a casualty, her torso severed, from beach beauty to a sordid trampling, victimized by the stampede of these two misfits. First, they unceremoniously prostrated her, now this—violations, I am sure, somewhere in the sanctuary of man-laws.
“You are Percy Patterson, right?” The black detective asked, avoiding eye contact. He was the one with the heavy raspy voice. A rotund man with a receding hairline, his portly mass was pronounced further by his unbuttoned brown jacket—not by choice, the corpulence of his midsection defeated any such notion of marrying button to hole. His head darted about, taking inventory, like a potential tenant sizing up a new apartment.
“Can I help?”
Neither of my roommates responded; instead, the black detective moved toward the back vestibule leading to my bedroom. I followed him. Sensing my approach, he turned, facing me—our first eye-to-eye contact. Not even nocturnal shadows, usually a compliment to veil the ghastly, did him any kindness. His rigid face was devoid of any sanguine; a grin from him seemed as remote as buttoning his jacket. I was staring at a mug of an angry bulldog, ready to pounce with the least agitation. On his forehead, beads of sweat were forming, a product of the four flights climb to apartment 4F, I imagined. From his inner pocket, he jerked a ruffled handkerchief and wiped his glistening face. Although the scene before me seemed humorous, begging for an outburst, I had to maintain my cool until these clowns were out my door.
“What’s the deal?” I asked brusquely.
“I’m Ryan, and this is Fischer from the 103rd,” he said, pointing to his partner, standing just behind my La-Z-Boy, hands in pockets and eyes glued to a basketball game playing on the television. Detective Fischer was tall and slender with an aquiline nose and a thick sandy mustache. He wore a gray suit with a powder-blue silk handkerchief stemming from his left breast pocket—he was definitely the more dapper of the two.
“You play any ball, Patterson?” Detective Fischer spoke for the first time, but before I could reply, he continued, “They don’t come like Magic and Bird no more.”
I nodded and shot him an incredulous look and said, “I got a sweet jumper if you really care to know, detective. Almost made it to the pros, but I’m sure you two didn’t stop by to hear about my broken dreams. But, next time you are in the hood, drop the suit and we can get our sweat on.”
“Almost a pro, huh?” he replied and moved to where the bottle of merlot stood and squatted over it.
“1998 Chateau St. Michelle, a classic,” Detective Fischer commented. He leaned over and took a long whiff of the uncorked bottle, closing his eyes; as if the aroma had infused an intoxicating spell. I could only surmise that he too was a wine connoisseur and couldn’t resist doing what was natural to him.
“Don’t be shy, detective,” I said. “I left you a nip.” He looked at the remains in the glass, nodded and stood up.
“No dilly-dallying around, partner,” Detective Ryan admonished. “We’re on a murder investigation.”
My head moved from Detective Ryan to Detective Fischer, then back to Detective Ryan.
“MURDER—murder!” I bellowed, standing motionless with my mouth agape. For a moment, I blanked out—closing my eyes. Maybe subliminally, I wanted this to be a nightmare, but hovering over me was this sweaty, gross, man like a ravenous cat cornering a defenseless mouse.
“Yes sir, murder, like homicide,” Ryan said. “And we need some answers. So, you can make this easy, or we can take you to the station.” The shakedown script had begun. It was time to bite, but this bait was bland with odorous vapors.
Fischer’s attention had reverted back to the television while his partner stared me down, waiting for my answer. It was time to get ghetto on these fools.
“What the fuck? You two barge into my fucking crib, in the middle of the night and I’m supposed to be singing about some murder? Am I missing some shit here? Please explain this fucking shit to me.” I’d suffered enough torture watching his wretched face, so I quickly moved to the television, powered it off and retreated to my La-Z-Boy, resuming my tranquil posture before their unwelcome entrance.
“Sorry Fischer,” I said. “We both know the outcome of the game. I need to know what the fuck is going on here.” I reached for the wine glass and downed it remains, then raised my empty glass toward Detective Fischer and returned it back to the floor.
“Just calm down,” said Detective Fischer, moving to my side. I shrugged, closing my eyes, still unable to rationalize the scene that was playing out in my apartment.
“Mr. Patterson, we have strong evidence that you were the last person to see the victim alive,” Detective Fischer stated, now squatting at eye level.
“Victim, who is this fucking victim?” I demanded and sprang to my feet. From his catcher’s position, he slowly rose; we were facing each other separated by the La-Z-Boy. As I looked into his piercing blue eyes, I realized he was much taller than I initially thought, and for some strange reason, I thought of him swatting the ball in my attempt to shoot a jump-shot. Detective Ryan, watching my every move, had drawn closer to my right side. With a trigger-happy smirk etched on his face, he rested one hand next to his belt, partially withdrawing his jacket ends to show the handle of his holstered Glock.
“What kind of fucking nightmare is this?” I asked with open arms, taking turns to stare at each detective.
“Here, take a look,” Detective Ryan said.
From his inner jacket pocket, he pulled a manila envelope and handed me a stack of five by seven photos while I dropped back in my favorite seat. The first photo didn’t make sense to me, more so, because I was mortified. It could not be real—an illusion or some sick practical joke. Shaking my head, I began tossing the rest of the photos to the floor like a card dealer at a casino.
“No, no, no…,” I clamored, cupping my face.
“So why did you do it, son?” Detective Ryan asked in a soothing tone. Still shaken, I moved my hands from my face and observed him with much discomfort, grimacing, bending over and retrieving the photos scattered on my wood floor.
“Are you fucking nuts?” I responded, making a fist and slamming it against my armrest. By the time he was upright, his face was wet and dappled in rivulets, like he had just finished running a marathon. This time, his handkerchief never left his breast pocket. Instead, he stroked his face with his right index finger, spewing his hot sweat about.
“Stop with your pussyfoot act, Patterson. Why?” Detective Ryan pressed on.
“Hold on a fucking minute,” I replied, trying to collect my thoughts. The empty bottle of wine on the floor did me no justice, although, something stronger was more apt for this calamity. Without the distraction of the tube, Fischer had moved next to his partner. Obviously, they were waiting for the payoff, a confession that would make their night and hail them celebrities at their precinct. Unfortunately, they had the wrong man. Though boxed-in with little room to breathe, it was time to say my piece.
“I was with her last night at the motel, but she left sometime after five in the morning for her flight to Denmark,” I uttered in a sullen tone.
“Denmark?” Detective Ryan repeated like he had hit the jackpot. “Get some clothes on. We are taking your punk-ass to the station.”
“What for?” I asked. “You throw me some photos of a corpse, and I’m your guy?” Ryan shrugged and said, “Just following protocol son.”
“You mind if we snoop around?” Detective Fischer asked, turning from me and facing the bedroom area. “Do I really have a choice here?”
“Any weapons, Patterson?” Fischer asked.
“Yeah, there’s a baseball bat under my bed, and it’s fully loaded. Guns are for cowards,” I replied.
“No need to be funny,” Detective Fischer said.” You may be in deep shit.”
“Do your job, detective, but you’re wasting your time here.”
“I’ll start in the bedroom,” Detective Ryan said. “Tackle the bathroom and don’t forget the drop-ceiling and under the toilet bowl cover.”
“I guess it’s my turn to be the sewer rodent,” Detective Fischer responded.
“It’s a shitty job, ain’t it?”
“That’s real deep, Ryan.”
A moment of solitude did nothing to quell my pacing mind. In the last twenty minutes, much had transpired, and the pieces of this puzzle became as surreal as an episode of the twilight zone. I was clueless like an Eskimo in the middle of the Sahara. She was dead if those photos were real. The cops were here, so it had to be real, but there was plenty missing. Although my confidence was resolute, an escort to the police station could mean being locked up, a place that held as much refuge as a wounded animal caught in the crosshairs of a hunter’s rifle.
In retrospect, I was to blame, not for her death, but my indiscretions. She called; I went. Yesterday, if only I would’ve capitulated to my instincts, keeping my ass home, especially under the despicable weather conditions, I wouldn’t be in such a predicament. Instead, I’d succumbed to my lustful desires, and tonight facing a possible murder rap.
Unable to absorb the comforts that my La-Z-Boy usually provided, I moved to my rumpled tan leather couch while the detectives began to rummage through my apartment. My eyes welled. Overcome by self-pity, I moved my hand over my forehead to the back of my head, trying to abate an inevitable migraine, a headache that needed something much stronger than aspirins. Could things get any worse? From the look of things, yes, but keeping my composure was paramount. A couple deep breaths and a moment to reflect on the events that led the detectives to my apartment were necessary. I eased my head back, closed my eyes, and sunk into a replay of my last twenty-four hours.
By Francis Toussaint
“The bachelor life is sweet, so why would I settle to the waking-whims of the opposite sex.”
Percy Patterson penchant for the glitter of nightlife had netted him many affairs, without the trappings of a commitment—falling in love was never an option.
It was just another date, but unlike the others, she left scars so deep and haunting, he would never be same. Instead of seeking his next conquest, he’s being investigated by the police for murder, a target of a jilted husband and on the verge losing his job and family. To reclaim his life, Percy turns to the underworld for assistance. Is Percy on the right path to atonement, or getting himself in a maelstrom that may ultimately spell his demise?
Fate has a strange way of knocking at your door, sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, but most times unexpected, where truths are circumvented to deliver the inevitable