Chapter XIII: Guilty Feet Have No Rhythm
Sunday Morning, October 10th, 9:13 a.m.
Darren had managed to fall asleep after tossing and turning for hours at Deuce’s place. He awoke to the ringing of his phone. He already knew who it was and what the call was about. He sat up on the couch and paused before answering.
“Hello?” he said sleepily.
“Darren man, it’s Dean.” From the sound of Dean’s voice, he knew that he’d found out about Erica.
“What’s up man?” Darren tried to sound as normal as possible.
“I need you to get over here man,” Dean said.
“Why? What’s up?”
“Erica’s dead.” Dean managed to say. Darren closed his eyes and placed the phone to his chest. It’s starting, Darren said to himself. You gotta play this cool bro. “You there?”
“Yeah man, I’m here,” Darren finally said. “What do you mean, she’s dead?”
“The cops found her in her apartment, in bed. They’re saying it’s possibly murder.” How the fuck did they discover that so quickly? Dammit! Darren cursed to himself. I should have disposed the body somewhere. Fuck me!
“Murder? Who would want to kill her? Maybe that pretty boy she brought to the house last weekend?” Darren was trying to plant seeds in his brother’s mind.
“Dude, I don’t know anything right now,” Dean said. “They came to the house early this morning and told us. I don’t know if they have any leads or whatever. I think right now, everybody in the city of Chicago is a suspect until they find rock solid evidence. Bianca is so messed up right now man; I can’t even console her. All she does is cry.” Those last words slammed into Darren’s chest. Bianca. He loved Bianca with all his heart. He didn’t realize how his actions would hurt not only Erica but Bianca as well. What the fuck did I do? I gotta go, Darren thought to himself. I gotta get the fuck outta Illinois as soon as possible. I can’t stick around here. Darren knew that Erica’s death was an accident but he knew how the cops were. As Deuce said, no matter how many times he’d say it was accidental, the cops, judge and jury would see it different. “Darren? You there man?”
“Yeah, I’m here man,” Darren finally said. “I’m just…stunned man.”
“Yeah, I know bro,” Dean said. “I know you and Erica had your little falling out but I know deep down you had love for her. That’s why you were so salty when she brought Cash over that night.”
“Yeah but I didn’t want to see her hurt or dead man,” Darren said, and he really meant it. He didn’t want to hurt her and he certainly didn’t mean to kill her. He had hit her across the face but only because he was angry. She had hurt his pride and his ego. He reacted in the wrong way and now he was in hot water, not only with the police but with his own family as well.
Darren and Dean sat in the family room, drinking coffee in silence. Bianca was sleeping upstairs after Dean had given her a sedative. Darren could hardly sit in Dean’s house: he kept remembering things about Erica. The first night he met her, how she took his breath away with her stunning beauty. How she smiled at him with that sexy beauty mark near her mouth. The way she batted her eyes when she was nervous. That first night of their date: how gorgeous she looked in her black dress and diamond drop earrings. How sultry and delicious she looked dancing with him. How tipsy she was and how she let him take her and make love to her. The soft moans and light breathing sounds she made when he stroked her love gently, how her hips moved under his body, taking all of him inside her. Those quiet weekends watching movies on Netflix and him trying to cheat her in Monopoly and Spades. His heart was hurting and there was nothing he could do to fix it. Then there was the baby, his baby. A baby he’d never see, all because he let his anger and jealousy take over. He was so mad at himself. Dean snapped him out of his thoughts.
“I had to call Bianca’s parents and break the news to them,” Dean said, looking down at his coffee mug.
“How did they take it?” Darren asked.
“They took it hard,” Dean said. “Erica was their baby. They only had two kids and one is gone now.” Dean shook his head. “We gotta start making funeral arrangements. Her parents want her to be buried in Bethesda in their family mausoleum.”
“I can’t believe we’re talking about this,” Darren said.
“I know man,” Dean said. “Bianca and I will be heading to Bethesda tomorrow. We’re both taking the entire week off work. You’re coming to the funeral, right?”
“What?” Darren asked. He hadn’t planned to attend Erica’s funeral for a number of reasons: one being that he was the cause of her death, two being that he couldn’t face Bianca and her parents and other family members and three, he didn’t want to see Erica lying in a casket. It would be too much for his conscience to bear.
“Erica’s funeral,” Dean said. “You have to be there. For Bianca. And because you did have a friendship with her. It’s the least you can do. I know you and Erica were at odds but I’m sure Bianca would love for you to be there. She needs the support.”
“I can’t get away from work,” Darren said, praying that the funeral would be any day except Saturday.
“Her funeral is on Saturday; you don’t work on Saturdays,” Dean said. “I’ll send you a ticket. All you have to do is arrive at O’Hare and pick it up.” There was no way that Darren could get out of it; he would have to swallow his guilt and make the trip to Bethesda to watch his former lover and the mother of his child buried.
Tuesday, October 19th, 5:19 p.m.
Darren hadn’t slept soundly since Erica’s death. Guilt was eating him alive and he knew that it was only a matter of time before the police caught up with him. As far as an alibi, Deuce had him covered. Deuce had planned to tell the police, if questioned, that Darren was with him at his place, playing their weekly game of Spades. He had no idea how the case was going, being that he had been staying away from Dean and Bianca. He had attended Erica’s funeral in Bethesda that past Saturday and he’d wished he hadn’t.
The day he arrived in Bethesda was a cloudy and cold one. He planned to leave Bethesda as soon as possible; he couldn’t face Erica’s family and friends, especially Bianca. He couldn’t bear seeing her in such pain, knowing that he was the cause of it. Dean had picked him up that morning from the Bradley International Airport in Hartford and they immediately headed to the church. When they got there, Bianca was already there with her parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other family members. His feet felt like lead as he walked toward the front of the church where Erica’s body lay. He squeezed Dean’s arm and Dean squeezed his hand back. They both approached the casket and for a few seconds, Darren couldn’t look down. When he finally decided to look, he was surprised to see that Erica didn’t look dead at all, just peacefully asleep. Her face looked angelic; she wore a white dress with silver sequins and her hands were placed on top of her stomach, just as he had posed her in her bed after her death. Her hair was in curls, the same way she wore it when they first met that Saturday night at Dean and Bianca’s. She looked as if, at any moment, she would open her eyes and step out of the coffin. All the memories that Darren had of Erica and the time they spent together came flooding back. Darren didn’t realize that tears were falling from his eyes until an usher handed him a tissue. He felt a hand on his shoulder; when he looked over to his right, he realized it was Bianca.
“It’s okay Darren,” Bianca said through tears. “I know you loved her and deep down, even though she was upset with you, she loved you too.” Just hearing those words made Darren break down. He covered his face with one hand and let the tears and pain flow. His love for Erica, as well as his guilt, was almost too much to bear. He felt someone pulling him to a seat and he felt a hand on his back. He wanted so much to bring her back: to apologize to her, to accept the co-parenting agreement she had offered, anything to bring her back.
It seemed as if all of Bethesda came to the funeral; Darren had forgotten that Erica was a household name during her modeling days. Friends that she had made during those years attended, coming in from New York, Los Angeles, Miami and her beloved Paris. Erica’s death had made national and international news. Her ex-boyfriend Ryan and his mother had flown in from New Orleans. Her childhood friends also attended, all stunned about her death. Jennifer, Cash and Carlos were also there, looking devastated. Jennifer had to be carried out of the church after collapsing near the casket. A few more of Erica’s friends were openly heartbroken and upset upon viewing her body in the casket. Cash cried throughout the entire service, flanked on each side by his parents and his siblings. The service seemed to move slowly, although it only lasted an hour and 45 minutes. Several members of the community spoke about Erica, including former teachers, classmates, and the modeling agent who discovered her at age 16. At the end of the service, Erica’s parents stood before the attendees and thanked them all for attending. Her mother was visibly heartbroken and could barely speak. Bianca was inconsolable and Darren could hardly remain in the church, watching the sister he loved in such pain. After the services, Erica’s body was taken to a mausoleum where she was placed for the final time.
Now, lying in his bed, Darren couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. He hadn’t visited with anyone, not even his boys. Mario and TyTy were stunned to hear about Erica’s death but were surprised that Deuce had hardly shown any emotion. Darren and Deuce had spoken earlier that day about his plans to relocate to Detroit for a time, then he’d slip on through to Canada. He felt guilty about the accident but there was no way that he would go back to jail. He had to find a way to make some fast money so that he could slip away quietly by the end of the week. He knew that the cops were still investigating Erica’s death and had ruled it a homicide. There was no way in hell that Darren would allow himself to be arrested. Not now, not ever.
Friday Evening, October 29th, 6:29 p.m.
“Are you any closer to making an arrest?” Bianca sat in her living room, fidgeting with the fringe on her skirt. Detective Shields had arrived to speak with her and Dean regarding the progress of Erica’s death investigation.
“We think we may be a bit closer,” Detective Shields told them. “The person who did this wanted to make it look like a robbery gone bad. The thing is, it wasn’t a robbery. She knew the person who did this.”
“How do you know that?” Bianca asked.
“Her door wasn’t kicked in; there was no sign of forced entry,” the detective explained. “She let the person in. Nothing was broken and there were no weapons found. If the person was a stranger, there would have being something out of place. If she had been trying to run away, something would have been knocked over or broken.”
“That makes it worse,” Bianca said, her eyes filling with tears. “The fact that she possibly knew this person.”
“Did she have a boyfriend? A disgruntled ex-boyfriend perhaps?” the detective asked.
“No, she wasn’t in a relationship with anyone,” Bianca said. “She had rekindled a friendship with a high school sweetheart but I’m positive that he’s not responsible. He’s not that type.”
“No disrespect ma’am, but you can never be too sure about people anymore,” Detective Shields said. “He may have been a nice decent guy when they were in high school but people change.”
“But what reason would Cash have to hurt her? And rob her no less?” Bianca asked. “It’s not like they were on bad terms; they had plans to go to dinner that night. I can’t believe that; I won’t believe it.” Bianca shook her head.
“Well, we have to check everyone at this point,” Detective Shields told her. “We don’t want any stone to go unturned. We want to make sure that we put this person behind bars where they belong.”
“I understand,” Bianca said. The detective stood up.
“We will keep in touch,” he told Bianca. “Thank you for your time.” He stood up and Dean walked him to the door. Bianca began pacing the floor.
“I refuse to believe that Cash hurt Erica,” Bianca said. “I’ve known him since he was a little boy. It’s not in him to hurt anyone.”
“I just met Cash a few weeks ago and I agree with you; he wouldn’t do that to her,” Dean said. “We talked about how they grew up together and it was obvious that he still had love for her.”
“I just can’t figure it out…who would want to hurt her? I mean, she really didn’t know anyone here. She just moved here in April. The only people she had a relationship with are Jennifer and Darren but I know they wouldn’t hurt her,” Bianca said.
“That’s true,” Dean said. “Do you think maybe someone was stalking her? I mean, didn’t a lot of her neighbors know she was a model? There are some sick men in the world who like to stalk women that they know they can’t have. Maybe she didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t want us to be worried.”
“She would have told me,” Bianca said. “I know my sister. If she was in trouble or in danger, I would have been the first person she told. I just need to figure this thing out; it’s driving me crazy.”
“You think maybe Jen might know something? Or Cash?” Dean asked.
“Maybe so,” Bianca said. “I think I’ll have a talk with both of them at different times and compare stories. See if maybe Erica told them something that she didn’t want to tell me.”
Saturday Evening, October 30th, 8:03 p.m.
Bianca and Jennifer sat in the Rosebud restaurant, discussing the last few weeks of Erica’s life. It had been three weeks since Erica’s death and both women were still reeling. After Erica died, Jennifer decided to let Bianca become owner of the company; it was the least she could do. She didn’t want to have Erica’s legacy handed over to anyone except her family. Bianca had reached out to a family friend who was also a lawyer. They went over the basics on how Bianca would run the company. Bianca would keep her job at the law firm but she would be overseer of the magazine. Jennifer would remain the manager and she would be allowed to make bigger decisions. Erica’s death also affected her employees; they were all devastated.
As the two ladies waited for their appetizers, they began their conversation.
“Have the police come up with any leads?” Jennifer asked, taking a sip of water.
“They say they’re close to finding a lead,” Bianca said. “They say that the person who did it had to have known Erica. There was no forced entry. There was nothing out of place; they say that if Erica was in real danger, she would have run or the apartment would have been ransacked.” Jennifer suddenly froze.
“Bianca, I think I need to tell you something,” Jennifer said.
“What is it?” Bianca asked. Just then, the waiter brought their appetizers. Bianca thanked the waiter and Jennifer continued.
“There were a few things that Erica may not have told you about,” Jennifer said, suddenly feeling ashamed.
“Like?” Bianca sat forward in her seat, forgetting about the appetizer sitting in front of her.
“Like…well…the thing with Darren,” Jennifer said.
“What thing with Darren? What are you talking about Jennifer?”
“She and Darren…they…well, they were more than just friends dating,” Jennifer said.
“What do you mean, more than just friends dating?” Bianca folded her hands on the table, afraid to hear the answer. Were they…no, they couldn’t have, Bianca thought to herself.
“They were lovers,” Jennifer said. Bianca was stunned.
“Lovers? You mean they were intimate?” Bianca asked.
“Yes,” Jennifer said.
“How do you know that?” Bianca asked.
“She told me,” Jennifer said. “And I found out.”
“How and when?” Bianca began to get upset. How could Erica not tell me about her sexual relationship with Darren, she thought.
“Actually, it started a few weeks after they met, when they went on their first date,” Jennifer said.
“That soon?!” Bianca’s voice rose and the other patrons in the restaurant looked her way. “The same night?” Her voice dropped to a whisper.
“Yes,” Jennifer said. “She was ashamed about it. She wasn’t sure how you’d take it.”
“Take what? Them having sex with each other?”
“She thought you’d frown on it or say that it was wrong,” Jennifer said. Bianca exhaled and closed her eyes briefly.
“My God,” Bianca said, her eyes welling with tears. “Why would she think I’d be ashamed? She was a grown woman; she was free to do whatever she wanted. I wouldn’t have judged her.”
“She didn’t know that though,” Jennifer said. “She thought that you would think it was wrong for them to do that since Darren is your brother-in-law and she was Dean’s sister-in-law. I guess she kinda thought it was like…”
“Incest?” Bianca said. “Not in the least! If anything, I would have probably encouraged it. So that’s why they were at each other’s throats that night at dinner. That’s why there was so much tension between them,” Bianca said. “They were throwing jabs at each other all night. When Erica left that night, she looked shaken up. I know that she was sick though. Did she tell you about the sickness? She said she was going to tell me about it when she saw me but then…” Her voice broke and she looked down at the table. Jennifer reached across the table and squeezed her hand.
“She never told you?” Jennifer asked.
“No, she never did,” Bianca said. “She said she wanted to wait because she had a lot to tell me.” Jennifer closed her eyes and exhaled.
“She was pregnant, Bianca.” Bianca’s eyes grew wide and her mouth fell open.
“Pregnant? Was Darren the father?” Bianca asked.
“Yes,” Jennifer said. Bianca jumped up from the table and ran out of the restaurant, with Jennifer close on her heels. Bianca reached her car and collapsed against it in tears.
“Why didn’t she tell me?” Bianca screamed. “Oh my God! Why would she not tell me about all this?” Jennifer reached for her and pulled her into her arms with a strong hug. She cried along with Bianca.
“She wanted you to be proud of her,” Jennifer cried. “She felt like she had to be perfect for you. Getting pregnant wasn’t a part of her plan, and she definitely didn’t want to be pregnant by Darren. She didn’t want to run the risk of you and Dean finding out.”
“So, you don’t think Darren told Dean about him and Erica? What was she planning to do about the pregnancy?”
“She was going to keep the baby,” Jennifer said. “She wanted to talk to everyone separately. She told me on the first day. She told me that she was going to talk to you later because she wanted to fill you in on her relationship with Darren.”
“Had she talked to Darren about it?”
“She had planned to talk to him the night she died,” Jennifer said. Bianca suddenly stiffened.
“Were they going to meet somewhere?”
“She had planned to call him over to her place.”