All Eunice knew about Dougie Barnes was he was a friend from Daddy’s Harlem days and a one-time Black Panther, “Dougie is no stranger to helping folks not exist,” Curtis had said, “but don’t ask too many questions.”
“Dougie’s been living as a bachelor ever since Madeline passed away. He may seem eccentric but he’s a good man,” Curtis said.
“Why would he do this, does he get paid?” she asked her father.
“Never mind that, Dougie owes me one. He will be paying you!” Curtis said.
Dougie’s house was two-level with peaked gables on either side of the attic, which she’d soon find out was her new hideaway apartment.
After cordial introductions, Dougie gave her a tour of the main floor, the kitchen and living room. When Curtis said Dougie was a bachelor, she envisioned a sloppy guy but she was relieved to see he was just eccentric, closer to a neatfreak. Eunice made up her mind he was kind-hearted. He also reminded her of Lionel Richie.
On the second floor he opened one door, “This room is a storage room for dear Madeline’s clothes and mementoes, the things I can’t bring myself to part with,” he said.
“I’m sorry Dougie,” Eunice said.
“Up here’s all yours if you can muster the courage to head up them stairs,” he said, pointing up a narrow staircase, “I’ll never try ’em again unless I want to break another hip!” he snorted.
“I uh, really appreciate it,” she didn’t know what to say to the man, who was arranging her phony I.D.
“Take a look for yourself, nothin’ to break up there,” he said.
She climbed the uneven steps and opened the attic door. The central room was confined by the slanted angles of the roof. She hoped she’d remember to duck to avoid hitting her head in the low spots.
She had a twin bed with a patchwork quilt, a side table lamp and a dresser. If she had a bible and hung a crucifix above the bed, she’d have herself the perfect nun’s room. The attic had charm, with its barn floors in need of a good scrubbing. At least she didn’t have to share.
She sat on the bed, her heart sinking as the actuality of being on the run set in. Leaving Montgomery had completely shut off from the world. And for what? She hadn’t actually killed anyone.
She fled to protect her father and maybe Sam she had fled to avoid police questioning. All she had to do was tell them Lil Red got the guns through Terrence’s gangbanger cousin Manny and not her father but it wasn’t as simple as that. She didn’t know how Daddy knew those same men. If Curtis was already in custody, her testimony could unfairly implicate him and he’d been in trouble before.
Back downstairs with Dougie, “Girl, your Pappy tells me it’s serious, ’bout what you got tied up in. Now go and think what your new name’ll be and I’ll get Harvey to get your I.D. in order,” he said, making it seem simple as if she were signing up for a Costco membership.
“Really? Seems so easy,” she said.
“Now some housekeeping, your daddy has a stipend set up which I will leave here weekly on Thursdays,” he lifted the handle of a small roll top desk, which sat in the hallway next to the stairs up to her quarters, “No contact with anyone on the outside from before unless it comes through me first. It’s for your own protection, capiche!?”
“Alright Dougie. If it’s okay with you I need to rest a little,” she said. It was the longest day, she’d ever had.
A few hours later Eunice lay on her bed trying to muster the will to get out to a grocery or CVS. Instead she rolled over and closed her eyes again. It was too much; Memphis, stipends, restrictions, fake ID’s, crack heads, shootings.
She allowed herself to be mesmerized by the rattle of the old air conditioner, that was wedged into a square of the gabled window. Her thoughts floated in and around the soothing mechanical bleeps and farts, becoming some kind of melancholy rhythm. The lull eased her mind.
The sound turned into the first few bars of an electronic jazz version of, Here Comes the Sun sung by Nina Simone. Little darling…it’s been years…
She decided her assumed name would be, Nina Wayman of North Carolina.
Eunice had submitted necessary information for her I.D to Dougie, who said the turnaround time was just a few days. In the meantime, she took on the role of a housebound recluse but the waiting was a real test on her sanity.
The more time she spent in isolation, the more she wanted to protect her alone time. It gave her insight into her mother’s affinity for locking herself away from the world. The few times she ventured out, she kept to off busy times and wore a floppy hat and glasses. Her shopping was preplanned and systematic, so she could race back to her room.
She was nervous about detection, too paranoid to be seen on the street after watching news snippets about her on TV.
Reports told of death, injuries and arrests. She scoured through the testimonials from those who were there, for any word about Sam and Terrence but no names had yet been released. Then she saw in the Memphis Daily News.
Gunfire breaks out at Montgomery school good will killing 16 injuring 20. An armed vigilante group intercepted community efforts to feed the homeless at a Montgomery school Saturday. A dozen members of an unidentified gang opened fire onto the crowd of over 50 people, many known drug addicts who had formed a ‘tent city’ on school grounds. Neighborhood bystanders were also injured, Alabama officials said.
The Montgomery Police Department said in a news release one man, Terrence Battle was killed and one woman Eunice Johnston fled and is wanted for questioning by the FBI. Both had been involved in a previous altercation with police during an anti-drug activist effort at The Vineyard one year ago.
“We are extremely grateful the incident was contained to one property. Our teams quickly surrounded the school, likely saving even more lives,” Deputy Chief Ted Atkins said in a statement. “This suspect opened fire at a crowded public park. This could have been so much worse.”
The shooting took place Saturday at Booker T. Washington High School. (Montgomery Police)
She put down the newspaper and closed her eyes. There was no specific news of Sam, so it was a blessing she kept her posse plans secret from him. Maybe he hadn’t been at the scene, the day of the massacre.
Eunice’s synthesized assessment of public perception, was something along the lines of her journal entry.
In a lawless town like Montgomery, the bad guys are all working together. Eunice, Lil Red and Terrence planned the violence. Or possibly the ladies craftily piggybacked on Terrence’s evil plan, knowing he was a member of the Skull gang and cousin of Manny of the Vineyard gang. Terrence and Lil Red were likely in cahoots, with her father Curtis Johnston a former Black Panther.
Eunice Johnston had been torn between justice and vigilante revenge. She had supported the Skull gang, because she and Terrence were likely lovers. Lil Red’s insane idea of full force vigilantism, in massacring drug dealers and junkies was of nefarious intention, planned by all three from the start.
Eunice still didn’t know what their true objective had been, so figured some of the story was factual. It was an embarrassment of deceit and by no means what she had intended.
Lil Red dying upset her but the notion that Terrence was dead, took her breathe away. He had been someone who met her match, understood her best and the one person she felt at ease with. Be a nerd around and share her fascination with minutia, intricate details and useless facts without fear his ridicule. She trusted him to keep things she shared secret.
How would life be the same without Terrence. She even had compassion for his attempt to kidnap her and save himself. Somehow she regretted never being intimate with him.
She must’ve gotten a naughty thrill out of Sam’s jealousy of Terrence. It gave her proof Sam adored her, which felt good. Sam never understood he had to earn a place in her heart, it didn’t just come that easy.
In any case, she preferred solving intricate problems, with like-minded people like Terrence. She didn’t have disagreements and altercations with him, the way she did with Sam. He put up so many roadblocks in her plans, with his nonsensical bleeding heart. She wasn’t going to be stopped and definitely wasn’t going to be blamed for having ambition.
That night she had a feverish erotic dream of rough lovemaking, with a man pressing a pistol into her cheek. It was Terrence worshipping her, as they made passionate love. Or was it sexual assault. It was a dream so the lines were blurred, like the heiress Patty Hearst who supposedly fell for her kidnapper.
When she shuddered awake in a hot sweat, she was relieved it had only been a dream. The unfamiliar attic bedroom gave her little comfort.
Evenings she made it her goal to enter the house with feline stealth, so Dougie didn’t hear and feel obligated to holler up the stairs and check on her. The last time it happened she’d been stuck chatting with him for twenty minutes, with American Idol blaring from his TV, each of them pretending the volume wasn’t distracting.
Dougie’s attic had become her self-imposed exile but it was a safe harbor, where she could breathe easy. No one knows you’re here.
The first week inspired a depression, even worse than the one she had back at the R.V. To help her feel safe, she wore headphones with or without sound, to try and silence her thoughts.
She was grateful for the white noise of the oscillating fan but it only blew hot air. Dougie hadn’t mentioned the attic temperature could rise to 100 degrees of dry sauna heat and she suspected the window air conditioners days were numbered.
The downside of the lonesome attic was, she got weaker as sloth laziness sapped her energy. There had to be a silver lining to this or she would simply be discovered, expired in her bed. So now what Eunice?
At night exhausted from doing nothing she’d be sleepy by 7:00 p.m. paralyzed with an inner monologue that offered no escape. Time went slower without a definitive goal and she missed her personal belongings. Here she had a clock radio, a small TV and a few books she would never read.
She imagined Sam pacing the R.V. worried sick about her but brushed it away as too emotional. She dared not overanalyze the fact, she’d recently found him lacking motivation. As his girlfriend she should have felt remorse for disappearing and leaving him distraught but she really didn’t.
On restless night number four, she started writing her first songs which would become a cache of morose hopelessness to put into rhyming verse. Something she hadn’t touched since her juvenile music camp ramblings.
Songwriting was the only thing that seemed to plant the seeds of hope.