Chapter XII: Broken Hearts, Broken Trust
Saturday Evening, October 9th, 8:42 p.m.
Cash had tried calling Erica’s phone but received no answer. He had talked with her earlier in the day and they had planned to hook up at a downtown restaurant later that night. They had made reservations for 9p.m. but when he called her phone around 7:30 to confirm, it went straight to voice mail. He waited 15 minutes then tried again. Still no answer. After calling for the fourth time in an hour, he began to get worried. He called Jennifer’s phone.
“Hello?” Jennifer answered on the second ring.
“Hey Jen, it’s Cash. Have you talked to Erica at any time today?”
“No, I haven’t talked to her all day. Is something wrong?”
“I’m not sure; we had plans to meet for dinner but she isn’t answering her phone.”
“Maybe she’s in the shower,” Jennifer said.
“I tried calling four times and she hasn’t answered,” Cash said. Jennifer had been relaxing on the couch with Carlos but when Cash told her that he’d called four times with no answer, she sat straight up.
“Well maybe she’s on an important phone call with someone and doesn’t want to be disturbed,” Jennifer said.
“But she knows we have reservations at 9,” Cash said. “I’m not being selfish or anything but if she sees that it’s me calling, she should click over and tell me that we need to reschedule or something.” Deep down, Cash knew that Erica wouldn’t stand him up, nor would she intentionally ignore his calls. After Erica confessed to him about being pregnant with Darren’s baby, Cash had to admit that he was a bit jealous but he knew that Erica was done with Darren. They spent the entire night talking about their future, wrapped in each other’s arms. Cash had wanted to make love to Erica but he willed himself not to do so. He didn’t feel right being sexually active with Erica while she was pregnant with another man’s child.
“Let me try and call her and I’ll call you back,” Jennifer said.
“Okay,” Cash said and hung up.
Saturday Night, October 9th, 8:56 p.m.
Erica’s phone rang three times, then went to voice mail. Jennifer tried calling again twice more and the same thing happened. She began to worry. She knew about the situation with Darren and she wasn’t sure how he’d taken the news about Erica’s pregnancy.
“She still not answering?” Carlos asked.
“No…and I’m worried,” Jennifer said. “It’s not like her to not answer her phone, especially when I call.”
“Don’t worry mami,” Carlos said. “Maybe’s she extremely busy or maybe she’s having trouble with her phone.”
“Maybe you’re right; let me call Cash back and tell him that I can’t contact her. You think I should go over to her place?”
“You think you should?”
“I think it would be a good idea,” Jennifer said, sliding her shoes on. “No telling what she might be going through, especially after she told Darren about the baby.” Carlos slipped his jacket on and helped Jennifer with hers.
“You think he’d flip out on her?”
“From the way Erica described his actions last Saturday, I wouldn’t put it past him.”
Jennifer rang Erica’s doorbell with no luck. She was practically leaning on the bell, then began to pound the door. Erica’s elderly neighbor across the way peeked out of her door.
“May I help you?” the lady asked Jennifer, looking at Carlos suspiciously.
“Hello, do you know the young lady who lives here?” Jennifer asked.
“Yes, I know Miss Erica,” the lady said. “Very nice sweet girl. Do you know her?”
“I’m her best friend,” Jennifer said. “I have been trying to reach her for about an hour. She was scheduled to meet a friend of hers for dinner and she hasn’t shown up.”
“I saw her today,” the lady said. “I heard a lot of commotion in there about two hours ago. Some guy knocked on her door and he looked really mean. He looked at me and I rushed to the elevator.”
“A guy? What did this guy look like?” Jennifer asked.
“I really didn’t see his face all that well; I didn’t have my glasses on,” the lady described. “He was wearing a…what do you call those…a sweater with a hood on it...?”
“A hoodie?” Jennifer asked.
“Yes, that’s what it was,” the lady said. “There was a lot of yelling and cursing and stuff. Then it got quiet.” Jennifer’s heart began to beat fast and she looked at Carlos with worry.
“Did you see the guy leave?”
“I’m not sure if he did leave. He may have left and she may have gone with him. That’s why it got quiet I suppose.”
“Thank you very much ma’am,” Jennifer said.
“You’re welcome dear,” the lady said.
“No way would she have left with him…no way in hell,” Jennifer said as she and Carlos made their way toward Cash’s place. She had called Cash and told him about not being able to contact Erica. He had given her instructions on how to get to his place. The three of them needed to put the pieces of this puzzle together.
“How do you know that though?” Carlos asked as he drove down I-290. “I mean, they might have made up because of the baby and he took her to his place to talk about it.”
“She couldn’t stand him Carlos,” Jennifer said, peering out of the window. “If they were going to talk about the baby, why would she leave the comfort of her own place? Erica is my best friend; we’ve been best friends since we were eight years old. I know her. She didn’t leave of her own free will.”
“If she left,” Carlos said. Jennifer faced him and he wished he hadn’t made that last remark.
“What do you mean, if she left? Are you thinking that she’s still in her apartment?” Jennifer asked. She got an uneasy feeling all of a sudden. Carlos didn’t want to scare Jennifer because he’d come across that same scenario a few years back. A female cousin of his had been missing for a week before she was found in her apartment, dead of multiple stab wounds caused by a jealous ex-boyfriend.
“Maybe she just didn’t want to be around anybody today,” Carlos said, trying to lighten up the mood. He knew he had planted a seed in Jennifer’s mind.
“How can that be though? She had made a date with Cash for tonight. She wouldn’t stand him up. Carlos, take me back to the apartment.”
“What? What about Cash?”
“Just…take me back to the apartment!” Jennifer screamed.
“Mami, calm down,” Carlos said.
“I can’t calm down! My best friend may be hurt! The lady said she wasn’t sure if she had left or not. I have to be sure; I have to make sure she and the baby are okay,” Jennifer said, tears springing to her eyes. She shut her eyes and gripped the car door. God, please let her be okay, she prayed. Carlos got off on the next exit and re-entered I-290, heading back to Erica’s place.
Saturday Night, October 9th, 10:09 p.m.
Darren paced the floor of his apartment, sweating profusely. He still had Erica’s phone in his pocket. In a rush to get out of her apartment, he had forgotten it was in there. He couldn’t believe Erica was dead. He had tried to give her CPR but it was obvious that she had died the moment her head hit the dining room table. She had looked so little and helpless on the floor. He picked her up and cradled her in his arms, crying for her and their unborn baby to come back to him. He had kissed her lips, her forehead, her eyelids…wishing that she’d come back to life. She never moved and her body began to turn cold. Through his tears, Darren picked her up and carried her to her bedroom. He pulled the covers back and lay her body between them. He covered her body with her satin comforter and placed her hands over her womb, the womb that carried their child. A child who would never know its father. A child who would never cry for a bottle of formula or to have its diaper changed. A child who would never go to school, play on the playground, make friends, graduate high school and college, become a spouse and have children of their own. Darren got on his knees beside Erica and their child and wept.
“I’m sorry Erica…I never meant to hurt you,” he cried, laying his head on her belly. “I wish we could do this again. I want you to come back to me. I’m sorry…I’m so very sorry.” Darren wiped the tears from this face and stood up. He looked down at Erica. Her face had begun to turn pale and her lips were a bluish color. He didn’t want to leave her lying in the dining room. She and their baby deserved that much respect. After placing Erica in her bed, he took pains to wipe any fingerprints that he may have left in her apartment. To make it seem as if a burglar had broken in, he took a few pieces of her jewelry. He also found some cash in one of her drawers and took that as well. He made his way to the living room and slowly peeked his head outside the door to see if any neighbors were out in the hallway; they weren’t. He quickly sprinted down the hallway to the stairwell. He didn’t want to run the risk of running into her neighbors on the 15th floor. He walked down to the 11th floor, then entered the hallway and got onto the elevator and made his way to the ground floor and to his truck in Erica’s guest parking space.
Darren finally stopped pacing and sat down on the couch. Erica’s phone had been ringing off the hook. He was too afraid to take the phone out of his pocket during the drive back to his place. He finally took the phone out and scrolled through her call history. Four calls from Cash, three calls from Jennifer. Darren laid down on his couch and closed his eyes. He knew it was a matter of time before someone discovered her body. Erica’s phone rang once again. Darren’s heart jumped into his throat. It was the usual three rings, then straight to voice mail. He wanted to destroy the phone but wasn’t sure how. He didn’t know who to call for help. He knew he couldn’t call Mario: he’d turn him in for sure. He didn’t know if he should call Deuce or not but he seemed to be the best bet in this case. Deuce had spent more than a few times in jail and knew a lot of tricks of the trade. He decided to take a chance. He called Deuce on his own phone, hoping that he wasn’t in club or in the middle of having sex with a woman. Deuce answered after the second ring.
“What up nigga?” Deuce sounded as if he were taking a toke of something. Weed, more than likely, Darren thought.
“Yo man, I need your help,” Darren said with fear in his voice.
“What’s wrong with you man? You don’t sound right,” Deuce said.
“I’m in big trouble man,” Darren said.
“What you mean, big trouble?” Deuce asked.
“I mean big trouble bro. Erica’s dead.”
“What the fuck did you do?” Deuce and Darren were sitting in Deuce’s apartment playing their usual puff-puff-pass game. This time, however, there was air of tension enveloping them both. Darren had to get out of his own apartment. Erica’s ringing phone was driving him crazy, not to mention some serious guilt was setting in.
“It was an accident man,” Darren said, taking the weed stick from Deuce. Deuce noticed that Darren’s hand was shaking. “We got into it and I pushed her. She lost her balance and hit her head on the table.”
“Shit,” Deuce said, his eyes widening. “You must have pushed her hard man.”
“I didn’t man,” Darren said. “Her feet slipped and she went backward. Before I could react, she was already falling. I wasn’t trying to hurt her but I was pissed at her. She told me she was pregnant.”
“Pregnant? By who? You?” Deuce said, nearly choking on the weed smoke.
“Yeah,” Darren said, standing up and walking toward the window.
“Damn man, that’s some crazy shit. You know you’re facing two murder charges, right?” Deuce broke it down to Darren. The reality of what he’d done finally hit Darren.
“Dammit man, I can’t go back to jail,” Darren said, turning to face Deuce.
“What you gon’ do then?”
“I gotta run. I gotta get out of the US. I can’t stay here and face Bianca and Dean. Bianca…got damn man. In all this chaos I forgot about her. Oh my God. What have I done?”
“Yo man, I can get you up to Detroit. I got a few relatives up there and they can slide you toward Canada. I’m not about to let you get thrown in the clink. I been there too many times and you never get used to that shit,” Deuce said. “And you know how they try to throw the book at us brothas. You can say it was an accident fifty-eleven times and the city of Chicago won’t give a shit…and she’s a former supermodel too? You can forget it man. Get your shit together man…and you gotta move fast bro.”
Saturday Night, October 9th, 11:43 p.m.
As she stood outside of Erica’s apartment building, Jennifer was frightened. She and Carlos had returned to the apartment and Erica didn’t answer the door. Jennifer knew something was terribly wrong. She had tried calling Erica’s phone again and there was no answer, again. She called Cash and asked him to meet her at Erica’s apartment. Cash had arrived around 11:30 and the three of them had stopped at the welcome desk and spoke to the night employee, Richard, regarding gaining entry to Erica’s apartment. Richard had told them that it was against their company’s policy to allow access to anyone apartment if they weren’t related to the tenant. Jennifer didn’t want to call Bianca, especially at this time of night. She had hoped that maybe Erica had gone over to Darren’s and she didn’t want to worry Bianca if there was nothing to worry about. Jennifer thought about Bianca and fear kicked in once again. What if something had happened to Erica? How would Bianca take it? Jennifer wasn’t sure if Erica had told Bianca about the baby yet, but Erica had told her that she wanted to take some time to break the news to her big sister. She knew that the conversation would be complicated to explain so Erica wanted to take as much time as she needed to.
“Sir, this is an emergency,” Jennifer explained, her voice bordering on panic. “She is my best friend and we have not heard from her. We have been calling her and we’ve come here twice. She has not answered her phone nor is she answering her door. Something isn’t right.” Jennifer’s voice broke and Cash spoke up.
“We just want to make sure she’s okay,” Cash said. “We had a dinner date tonight. She’s known to be very prompt. Something is amiss and we need help to find out where she is or if she needs help. She’s pregnant.” Richard’s face took on a somber look.
“I’ll tell you what; since I can’t allow you to go inside, maybe I can have one of the maintenance men to go in,” Richard told the group.
“Thank you so much,” Jennifer said, tears in her eyes. She held on to Carlos’ arm and he stroked her hand.
“Everything’s going to be okay Jenni,” he told her.
“I hope so,” Jennifer said. She looked over at Cash who looked scared. “Are you okay Cash?”
“Not really,” Cash said. “I’m really nervous.” Jennifer reached over and squeezed Cash’s hand.
“Erica’s alright,” she reassured him and herself. “She’s gotta be alright.”
As the five of them: Jennifer, Cash, Carlos and two maintenance men, rode up to the 15th floor, there was an eerie silence between them. They all stepped off the elevator and headed toward Erica’s apartment. Jennifer felt a sudden chill run down her spine and her legs suddenly turned to rubber. She tried to shake the feeling off but something wouldn’t let her. It was as if an evil spirit was riding her back all the way down the hall.
“You okay, mami?” Carlos asked.
“No,” Jennifer admitted. “I’m really scared.”
“Maybe she’s not even in the apartment,” Carlos said.
“That makes it worse!” Jennifer said. “If she’s not there, then where is she?”
“Maybe she’s at her sister’s,” Carlos said.
“No way,” Jennifer said. “If she were at Bianca’s, we would have heard from her by now. Even if she had wanted to stand Cash up, which I know she didn’t, Bianca wouldn’t have let her. She’s too responsible and considerate to let her do that.” They finally made it to the door. One of the maintenance guys slid the key in the locks and opened the door. Jennifer made a move to go in but he stopped her.
“I’d rather you not go in,” the guy told her.
“Why not?” Jennifer asked angrily. “This is my best friend’s place.”
“We are being cautious,” the guy said. “We need to make sure everything is okay before we let you guys in.” Carlos knew exactly what that meant: if there was a crime scene, they didn’t want them to walk into it. Both maintenance guys walked into the apartment and closed the door. Cash stood by the wall and pressed his back against it. He looked really worried.
“Cash, you don’t look so good man,” Carlos said, placing his hand on Cash’s shoulder. Carlos had an idea that what the maintenance men found wouldn’t be good but he didn’t want to let Jennifer and Cash know what he thought.
“It’s a lot better than how I feel,” Cash said. “Have you talked to Bianca or Dean, Jennifer?”
“No, I didn’t want to call them, especially if nothing is wrong. I wouldn’t want to worry them for nothing,” Jennifer said. After a few minutes, one of the maintenance guys came into the hallway with an ashen look on his face. Jennifer rushed toward him.
“What’s going on? Is she in there?”
“My co-worker has called the police,” he told them.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Jennifer asked, afraid to hear what the guy was going to say.
“Your friend is in the apartment…but…” the guy hesitated.
“But what?” Jennifer practically screamed.
“But…she’s dead ma’am.”
Sunday, October 10th, 12:44 a.m.
Cash couldn’t believe what was going on around him. The last thing he remembered was the maintenance worker saying that Erica was dead. After that, everything went silent. He didn’t remember Jennifer’s ear-piercing screams, nor the maintenance guy helping him up after he slumped to the floor. After he came around, he looked up and down the hall. Several of Erica’s neighbors had come out of their apartments to see what was going on. He saw a few of the female neighbors crying and the male neighbors looked stunned. The police had arrived nearly five minutes after the 2nd maintenance man had put in the call. Erica’s apartment door was being guarded by two police officers and no one but police and the ambulance workers were allowed in. Cash watched in horror as the Cook County coroner arrived with a stretcher and a black body bag and walked into the apartment. That’s when reality hit him. Jennifer was inconsolable; she had fallen to her knees and Carlos was hugging her, telling her how sorry he was. Her legs kept giving out from under her and she continued to wail and cry. All at once, she looked over at Cash who had tears streaming down his face. She managed to walk over to him and give him a hug.
“She’s gone Cash,” Jennifer cried into his chest. “My best friend in the whole world is gone.”
“I can’t believe it,” Cash said through silent tears. “We were just getting back on track and now this. Why did this happen?” Carlos walked over to both of them and put his arms around them.
“I’m really sorry you guys,” Carlos said, feeling their pain. He had experienced the same pain when his cousin was discovered so he knew what they were feeling. “Erica was such a nice young lady.” Just then, a big burly man wearing a black suit walked out of the apartment.
“My name is Detective Mike Shields,” he said to the group. “I understand that the decedent was a friend of yours?” When the detective said decedent, Jennifer burst into tears again. She couldn’t speak.
“Yes, she was,” Cash spoke up.
“Well, it looks as if this is a possible homicide,” Detective Shields said.
“Homicide? You mean she was murdered?” Cash said.
“Yes, possibly sir,” the detective answered. “The way her body was found, it is obvious that she didn’t crawl into her bed and die that way. She was placed there.”
“Placed there?” Jennifer croaked.
“Yes…I’m assuming that she was murdered in another part of the house. We can’t discuss everything right now. We have to reach out to her family. Does she have family here in Chicago?”
“Yes, she has a sister,” Jennifer said. “Bianca Sharp. She lives in Deerfield.”
“Is that her only family?” the detective asked.
“Bianca is the only family she has here. Her parents live in Connecticut as does the rest of her family,” Cash said.
“How long have you known the decedent?” the detective asked Cash.
“All of her life.”
Sunday Morning, 2:17 a.m.
Bianca sat up to the sound of what sounded like a knock on the door. She lay in bed, thinking maybe she was dreaming. A few seconds later, she heard the knock again. She looked over at the clock on the night stand; it read 2:17 a.m.
“Now who in the world could be knocking on my door this time of night?” she asked. Dean stirred next to her and rolled over on his back.
“Was that the door?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Bianca said, reaching for her robe and climbing out of bed.
“Who in the hell would be coming to the house this late?” Dean asked, getting out of bed as well.
“Maybe it’s Darren,” Bianca said, making her way down the stairs. “Maybe he didn’t feel like driving home. You know sometimes he gets tipsy with his boys and doesn’t want to get behind the wheel.” Dean followed her down the stairs.
“Who is it?” Bianca asked.
“Is this the Sharp residence?” a man’s booming voice asked.
“Yes, it is,” Bianca answered from behind the door. She didn’t recognize the voice and it certainly wasn’t Darren asking about their residence.
“My name is Detective Mike Shields,” the voice said. “Can you please open the door? We need to talk with you.”
“Show a badge,” Dean finally spoke up. He opened the peephole latch. The detective flashed his badge and Dean unlocked the door and opened it. Detective Shields was a domineering presence: tall and stocky with a full mustache.
“Are you Bianca Sharp?” Detective Shields asked Bianca.
“Yes, I am,” Bianca said. “Is there something that I can help you with?”
“May we come in?” Bianca noticed that there were two uniformed officers standing behind him. Her heart began beating fast. Oh my God, please tell me Darren isn’t hurt or dead. Her knees became like rubber.
“Yes, please,” Bianca replied, her mouth suddenly feeling dry. The detective and police officers walked in with grim looks on their faces. “Have a seat.”
“No, thank you ma’am,” the detective said. “We prefer to stand if you don’t mind.”
“What is this concerning?” Dean asked.
“Do you have a sister named Erica Parker?” the detective asked Bianca. Bianca quickly sat down and her eyes glazed over with mist. She was sure that she wasn’t going to want to hear what was about to be said.
“Yes…I do…” Bianca stuttered.
“Well Mrs. Sharp, I am sorry to inform you that your sister Erica Parker is dead,” the detective said mournfully.
“Wait a minute…what?” Dean asked. He looked over at Bianca who was in a state of shock.
“She was due to meet a friend…Cassius Turner…for a dinner date tonight and she never showed up. Calls were made to her phone and none of them were answered. Her friends…Jennifer Russell, Carlos Orozco and Mr. Turner went to her apartment and she didn’t answer her door. They alerted the maintenance staff and two staff members let themselves in and they found her body.” The detective noticed that Bianca had stood up and started pacing slowly. She suddenly stopped in her tracks.
“You’re saying…my baby sister is…dead?” Bianca managed to say.
“Yes ma’am,” the detective said. Bianca fell to her knees and began screaming.
“No! It’s not true! Not my sister! There must be a mistake! Dean, tell them it’s a mistake! Erica’s not dead! Please! Tell me it’s not true!” Bianca’s screams filled the entire house; she was inconsolable. Dean’s eyes filled with tears and he reached for his grieving wife. Bianca felt Dean’s strong arms around her but everything else was a blur.
“Can we continue this tomorrow morning please? We need time to process this,” Dean said, his words breaking.
“Yes sir, I understand,” Detective Shields said. “We will come back tomorrow afternoon if that’s alright with you.” Dean continued rocking Bianca as she cried loudly.
“That’s fine,” Dean said. “Detective? How did she die? She was going through an illness but she never told us what it was. She had planned to tell us this coming week.”
“She didn’t die from natural causes sir,” the detective said.
“How did she die then?” Dean asked.
“She was possibly murdered,” the detective said. Bianca fainted.