On the corner of Granite Street stood An Arm & a Keg, one of the most popular nightspots in Hartford, Connecticut. Sporting events displayed on three giant flat-screen televisions mounted high above the bar. Greasy-faced sports fanatics yelled and jumped out of their seats. Buckets of chicken bones and half-filled beer mugs on almost every table. Surround sound music. Even on a Wednesday night, the bar was packed.
Through the festive scene walked in Natalie Mercedes, dressed in a black fitted sweater and dark denim jeans. Her long black hair flowed behind her shoulders. Bright lighting made her caramel-colored skin shine like a newly waxed Ferrari. “Private Investigator” engraved on the badge clipped to her belt. Graced with beauty and attitude, her face gave a look telling everyone standing in her path that she was not to be messed with.
“What’s up, lil’ lady?” the bartender cheerfully asked as Natalie approached the bar top. “Whatcha drinkin’? Havin’ a beer or a glass of wine?”
“A Quenchers Gold will be fine,” she requested. “Give me the coldest one
“That ain’t a problem. I keep dem suckers down at the bottom of the cooler. So cold they can freeze the darkest corner of Hell.”
“Sounds good to me. Hook it up.”
The bartender reached into the ice bin and pulled out a frosty bottle of Quenchers Gold. Ice chips slid down its sides as frost smoked off the glass like a lump of meat on a BBQ grill. “Don’t get brain freeze now,” he said while
popping off the cap. “Drink it slow or else your tongue will git numb for several
Natalie smirked and said, “I’ll take my chances.” She dipped her head back and let the fizzy coldness flow down her throat. Half of the bottle was empty after one drink.
The bartender, in his 60‘s, overweight, no sense of fashion and working at the bar most nights, couldn’t help but let his eyes roll off the curves of her athletic body. However, he switched back to professional mode after noticing the badge. “Hey ya...” he stalled. “Don’t think ya shouldn’t be drinkin’ on duty?”
“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Natalie joked. She looked around the establishment and was amazed at how live the atmosphere was. “Is it normally this packed on weeknights?”
“Yup! All year ‘round. Surprised none of yur people come up in here more often. Got the best Happy Hour prices in town. Purdy ladies like yurself come in here all the time n’ never have problems with the locals so - ”
“What do you mean by my people?”
“I meant officers - sorry ‘bout that. Y’know how firemen sometimes go out drinkin’ after a shift or army buddies go hangin’ out when they’re on leave? Ya don’t go out wit yur cop buddies after work?”
“Nah. The cops I know would only take me to a bar because they’re planning to take something else later that night - if they can get me drunk enough, you dig? And that ain’t happening, mister. Not enough beer in the world could rob me of my dignity.”
Proud as she is to work in law enforcement, Natalie didn’t socialize with cops whatsoever. Locker room talk is usually airing out gossip and frustration, not about taking over the city. It still haunted her. Now she feels like the residents in her community, not knowing which cops to trust.
One reason why her private investigation business is thriving is that she works alone. Cases take a little longer to solve, but at least her clients are getting
true justice. She still cares about saving lives. Helping people. You can say she adopted the people as her siblings since she had no family besides Martha. This would explain why she’s so committed.
“Thanks for the beer,” she said, “It hit the spot. You have a good night and umm, thanks for the chat.”
“Heading home already?” asked the bartender. “The party’s just beginning.
How ’bout some food ta soak up the beer at least.”
“That’s okay. I pretty much have a cast-iron stomach. It’ll take more than
one bottle to get me drunk. How much I owe ya?”
The bartender put up his hand and shook his head. “On the house. Hey listen, I got a baseball bat an’ a pump shotgun if ya worried ’bout anyone tryna take advantage of ya. I know you have the badge, but my word’s the law in this place.”
“Didn’t you just say the locals know how to behave themselves?”
“Well, no offense to the ladies in this place, but none of them come close to lookin’ as stunnin’ as you. A man might get tempted, ya know?”
“Yes. Too well.” Natalie held up her fists. “It may not look like it, but these knuckles have tapped on plenty of jaws from men who acted on their temptations, ya feel me? So don’t worry. I can take care of myself.”
“What if a guy is bigger than ya?”
Natalie flashed the firearm underneath her sweater. “Like the man says:
‘don’t leave home without it.’” The bartender laughed. “This has all been pretty nice, but I got to get back to work. Maybe I’ll see you next time.”
“Well listen lil’ lady, if there is a next time, first round’s on me.”
“I might take you up on that. I ain’t making no promises, but I might.” Natalie left the sports bar and walked around the corner to Suede Street,
where her pale green Mitsubishi Galant was parked. Muffled sounds of pounding
and panting came from inside the trunk. Finding it comical, Natalie sighed as she pressed the key into the lock and opened the hood.
Stuffed inside the trunk was a frail Dominican male named Charles Johnson, a middle-aged man going through a midlife crisis. Still wore his pants halfway off his butt, lived in the basement of his grandmother’s house and
sold weed out in Brooklyn with guys half his age. But now he’s sweating like playing basketball in a suede jumpsuit. Two pairs of handcuffs behind his back, locking his wrists to his ankles. A dirty rag stuffed in between the gold grills that flashed across his teeth. His knockoff silk shirt was soiled in sweat. He thought doing business far from home would prevent him from getting caught. Tonight, however, he’s been found guilty of domestic abuse against his girlfriend, Geraldine.
Besides flashing large amounts of cash, Charles’ youthful features and immature behavior enabled him to hook-up with younger women in nightclubs. Geraldine, who lives in Brownsville, met him one night at the Ooh Lah Lah lounge. Using sweet-talk and his Spanish accent, Charles made Geraldine believe he was a man with a plan. Instantly, she fell in love.
Charles would come to Brooklyn on the weekends to spend time with her, a few hours to be exact. Most of the time he ran the streets with his boys while Geraldine sat at home and watched television. When Charles finally came home, he had just enough energy to have sex with her before going to sleep.
After two months of the same routine, Geraldine had enough and confronted him about his neglectful behavior. Charles answered back with hits to her face and cowardly “tough guy” speeches, “You ain’t my wife!!! I do what I want
when I want!!! You don’t like it, there’s the door! Who needs you anyway?!”
Geraldine filed several police reports, but none were ever investigated. The cops were up to their armpits in domestic violence cases, so new ones were placed at the bottom of the pile. Therefore, Geraldine gathered every penny she could muster and turned to the one superhero most folks could count on. Not only was Natalie as tough as nails, but she had legal permission to serve her brand of justice. What could be a better option?
“Aww sorry, did I wake you?” she teased. “Maybe it’s the handcuffs,
huh? Cutting into your wrists? Sorry about that, chico. Sometimes I get a little overzealous and lock ’em too tight. You know how that can happen, right?” Charles responded with muffled grunts.
“So! I guess you’re wondering why I snatched you out from your girlfriend’s house, right? Oh! Wait a minute! We’re in Hartford! And Geraldine
lives in Brownsville! Right?” Mockingly, she smacked herself upside the head. “How foolish of me. But now I wonder, who’s the bimbo I caught you in bed with? Probably still sleeping there right now. Should I call her up and ask?”
“Mmm! Mmm! Mmm-mmmm mummn!!!!”
“Yeah, you’re right. Be a waste of time, since she’s just another ho you’re bumpin’ ’n’ grindin’ with on the side? Must be great being you, huh? Getting the money and the booty for the cost of gas and tolls. Using grandma’s basement as
a hideout? Model citizen.”
“Mmm! Mmm, mmm-mmmm mummn!!!! Mmm!!!!”
Natalie sat on the car bumper and crossed her legs. “When I took this case, my first glance at you told me you weren’t so tough. I mean any man who would beat on a woman is a first-class punk Geraldine is a nice girl. But, I’m not. You can knock her around because she’s not a fighter. You won’t dare try that on me because we both know I’d whoop your ass every which way till Sunday and not even think twice about it. However, I’m also a professional. Trust me when I
say, you got off easy tonight.”
“Mmm! Mmm mmmm-mmmm mum-ffmm!”
“Yeah, you’re thug-act is quite convincing: yelling and cursing like a stand-up comedian, dressing all tough and…come to think of it, is this how
you so-called tough guys dress?” She awkwardly gawked at his clothes. “Look at your pants, son! Why are they so low? You like brothas checking out your underwear? What’s the matter, can’t afford a belt? Or are you the kind of guy who accepts deliveries in the rear? Catch my drift?”
She shrugged. “Anyway, thanks to your girlfriend’s testimony, not to mention your weekend drug runs with the Little Rascals, I got you on drug trafficking and distribution charges, as well as domestic violence. You’ll be taking that long trip up north, where the real gangsters roam.” He stopped squirming. Didn’t muffle a peep.
“You won’t be sleeping like a baby anymore, sunshine. You may get exactly what you gave to Geraldine, but...I wouldn’t wear my pants low anymore if I
were you. Nighty-night.”
Natalie slammed the trunk shut. Charles wiggled inside like a snake caught in a net, staring at total darkness. The next time he’ll see light will be from the lampposts of the Hartford Police Headquarters. Another case closed. Another satisfied customer. Time to go home.
A couple of hours passed. Traffic was as smooth as silk. A soulful classic
by Stevie Wonder, “Send Her Your Love,” played on the radio. Just crossing the New York border, Natalie heard her phone buzz on the armrest. Not recognizing the number, she assumed it was her anxious client waiting to hear the drama was over. However, she was shocked to hear Judas Lee’s voice on the other line.
“Why would he be calling at this time of night?” she thought. Clouds of worry fogged her mind. Pressing the answer button, she intently asked, “What happened, Lee?”
The inspector gulped before responding, “Umm – well first off, how have
you been, Ms. Merce – ” “What happened?!”
“Okay, okay. Let me get right to it, but I want you to try and remain – ”
“Dammit, Lee! Get to the point! I know you’re not calling me this late to say that Martha’s stranded on the damn highway with a flat tire! Now what’s going on?!”
Judas remained silent and then blurted, “Martha’s dead.”
Going numb upon hearing those horrid words, Natalie’s car veered off to the opposite lane. She swerved back at the last minute before hitting an oncoming truck. Trying hard to keep her composure, she asked, “Where is she?”
“EMT’s in Sayreville moved her body to the coroner for identification. We need you to -”
Natalie hung up and floored the gas, racing to New Jersey as fast as possible. “This must be a mistake,” she denied. “I just spoke to her! How can she…be...don’t you leave me, girl!!”
Martha was the last thread of family she had left. Perhaps they carted in someone who looked like her cousin. Mistaken identity. Not even she believes
that theory. Her mind had accepted the inevitable, but her heart wouldn’t let hope be distinguished.