previous: Strawman ch10: Home
The following was found written in a spiral notebook, first discovered in the remote hills of Northern New Jersey. It was my notebook, my journal. He, my handsome prince, my Puerto Rican angel had managed to document our first meeting in this reality. It was a retelling of our one magical day (which would result in Razor getting pulled out of my life.) I didn’t have to turn it over to authorities. I’m sure they had more than enough evidence on him. Still, I did have to read its contents. Razor had to have known this book would eventually come back into my possession.
He started his entry on the back, forcing the reader to turn the book upside down.
‘I was on a search for a body, part of a cleanup crew combing my way through the backroads.
“Yo Razor!” My radio screeched to life. “Find anything?” I made sure my police-issue Yamaha was still running, giving the illusion that my handler had just caught me in a moment of travel. “No, Sir.”
“Well get your ass back down to the start point.”
“Copy that, Sir.” In my full riding armor, I took a seat under a nearby tree. I didn’t sign up for any of this. I’d left behind my family, my wife who will never speak to me again, my daughter, who I’ll likely see on her milestone days.
‘Dear Diary,’ the writing started on the inside cover, the stronger, thicker paper, acting as a title page. ‘I truly believe my life is cursed.’ This line was bent like a rainbow over a blue ink drawing of a tree. At the bottom was the next line, written in elaborate cursive. ‘What in the holy mother of f–k!’
I carefully removed my riding gloves and turned the page. This thing was old, but not fragile. I had to come to the conclusion that it was a lost notebook that had been well loved, for a long time. The next page was an ultrasound. The small black-and-white image had been crumpled and flattened to the point where I couldn’t tell if it was a pregnancy or a tumor. ‘I can’t. This is too difficult.’
I turned the page. Was this some kind of suicide note? ‘Or maybe not. It’s all a matter of how you see it.’ This line was accompanied by a sketch of a judge’s mallet with a ying-yang. This was likely the diary of a suicide victim; someone who felt judged, someone I’d like to get to know.
‘This is dedicated to Roe vs Wade. In this timeline, the supreme court just passed a law that would allow states to regulate their own abortion rights. Great if you live in one of the good states I guess, but certainly not the Dakotas.’
I couldn’t help but wonder what she meant by ‘this timeline?’
At least I find myself here in one of the ‘good states’ now. New Jersey is one of the good ones, right?”
I chuckled. “The good ones?”
‘I always thought it was. I could walk along the beach with you.” The next word was scribbled out, but I could have sworn it was two words that started with the letter R. ‘Reynaldo Ramone.’
“Why would my name be in some random girl’s journal?” I turned off my radio. Dumb, I know, but I had to keep going.
‘Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst, New Jersey,’ this was accompanied by selfies of a young woman (she looked barely old enough to drink.) The images were black-and-white possibly printed from an office printer but there was something about her smile. The next image was of a small child. The little girl looked so much like her, it had to be the baby.
The next page felt thicker. The printed photo was of a toddler playing in a patch of weeds. ‘My little Ella picking flowers.’ There were several images, placed in chronological order, until a final image of a police officer. She had somehow managed to get a decent picture of both his badge and his face.
‘My husband Jamie has bowel cancer, and with no other family to take care of our toddler, I managed to get my orders changed from Aviano, Italy, to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Actually, I think the name of the town is Manchester.
Instead of continuing the entry she drew a series of daises, connecting to a lump of lyrical text, ‘Manchester, England, England across the Atlantic Sea. I’m a genius, genius, I believe in God. And I believe that God believes in Claude, that’s me.’ The lyrics were surrounded by hearts and flowers, possibly symbolic of the musical from which that song originated. It is clear that the author had a fondness for nostalgic musicals. I chuckled. “You’re probably not even old enough to remember the sixties.”
‘Anyway, anyway, anyway,’ she wrote the word as a series of rainbows. ‘I’m close enough to New York, to be able to take advantage of all the best hospitals, but far enough to dream.’ The word cut off as if someone had torn the book out of her hands. I flipped to the back to see if I could locate a name. ‘2nd Lt Grace McCallum?’
I got up from my comfortable seat. In the distance, I could hear laughing. “Oh, thank God!” The young girl said gleefully.
She wore a denim jacket over a brown, men’s t-shirt and not much more. With her strawberry blonde hair, she looked like a Disney Popstar. I wanted to help her to piss off some of the higher-ups, but was this really what a brand-new military officer looks like?
“Holy fuck, you found it!” Her voice went several octaves higher.
“I’ll need to see some id.”
“Yeah, sure. Right.” Grace searched her pockets, as a small child ran up to her.
“Mama?” The little girl asked.
“I think the nice man found mommy’s journal.” She held out her military ID, confirming her name. “Oh, here you go.” Instead of handing it to me, she seemed content with flashing it like a badge.
There was a moment of silence on my part. For the first time I lifted my helmet, to get a better look at her. With her wideset eyes, like a creature from another planet, she came off as young beautiful con-artist. “You’re actually a Lieutenant?” I asked, still gripping her ID.
“No, of course not. I stole my daddy’s ID, scraped off all the identifying information, before completely reprinting it.” she looked at me with a creepy, doll-like, smile. “Because that’s what cute little millennials do, right.”
Was she calling me a millennial? “Where you headed this late in the day?”
With one strong motion, she grabbed the ID, causing me to flinch in pain. Somehow, she managed to scratch me so hard the wound drew blood. “I’m just hitchhiking to New York.”
“New York? Does your commanding officer know?”
“Yes, Lt. Col Michelle Weary is well aware that my husband is currently receiving care in one of the best radiology clinics on the east coast.”
“Your husband? You seem a little young.”
“And you seem a little nosey.” It was clear she was upset but she wasn’t leaving without the journal.
“Let me guess,” he said coincidently as he flipped though the first few pages. “You’re saying one of my brothers in arms tried to take this off of you?” the only reason I could come up with was that they assumed she was taking pictures
“Yeah, the bastard hurled it down the waterway.”
“The officer likely thought you was running around with a fake ID.”
“And you don’t?”
“Can I at least give you a ride?”
“So, you’re just going to walk to New York?”
Grace giggled. Before replying, she turned to me, giving my appearance a once-over. “Are you actually military police?”
“Do I look like military police?” That was when I removed my helmet, revealing my sweat covered face.
A smile escaped her lips. “No, I was going to walk back to the base, now that I’ve located my journal.”
“Ok.” I held out my hand. “I’m…”
“Razor. I know.”
“I’ll see you around.”
“You’ll see me around?” What did she know?
“Right now, you’re wondering who I am and what exactly I know.” She turned to me, running her fingers through her hair. “Unless you’re not actually military police?”
Suddenly my supervisors arrived; two police cars, and three additional motorcycles. “Reynaldo! What’s with you turning off your radio?” A tall, thin man with a haggard face got out of the lead car. “Did I say you could shut off your damn radio?”
“I was just offering a ride to this military officer.” I knew by saying those words I would throw the redneck for a loop.
“You mean her father’s a military officer?”
Grace looked down at her hands, attempting to stifle laughter. “I’ll take offensive stereotypes for 1,000?”
“What did you say, girl?”
“A Jeopardy joke. I figured someone like you gets their current event info from game shows.” Thankfully, she still was willing to hold out the ID card while also making sure to not allow him to take it from her.
The older man scoffed, still believing he was talking to a disobedient little girl. “Is that your sister?”
“She is my daughter.”
“Where’s her daddy?” The way the sergeant shot a glance at me seemed to imply something.
The young lieutenant cleared her throat. “My husband is at a New York chemo clinic.”
Sensing trouble, I motioned for little Ella to stand behind me, positing herself between myself and her mother. “On three, I need you to grab the baby and.”
I didn’t need to finish that sentence. Grace grabbed her daughter and ran for my vehicle. Before I could even think about the consequences of my actions, we were on the highway headed to a clinic at one of the more discreet exits.
I knew, logically, there was no reason for them to follow me, but there was still an ever-present fear. Did I do something wrong? I was certainly going to lose my spot in the work release program, likely getting sent to solitary for a month or two. ‘Did I fuck it all up again?’ Soon we pulled into the parking lot.
I was willing to allow Grace and Ella to get off. Since this was an actual clinic, with electricity and payphones. They would be safer here than with me. “Well, here we are.”
Grace grabbed my arm, directing my body like a marionette. “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing.”
“I really should be going.”
“But baby it’s cold outside,” she sang in the tune of the famous Christmas song.
“This place is pretty nice; beautiful gardens, scenery, I think you’ll like it.”
With nothing better to do (such as turning myself in) I took a look around. The patients were allowed views of the gardens. There were also yoga classes and a store that sold overpriced juice.
Grace grabbed my arm. “You coming or not?”
“Um, yeah sure,” I muttered. The positiveness of my answer caused Ella to squeal with joy.
“I know you’re not a cop,” she said as she carried her daughter in the direction of the juice bar. “You want anything to eat or drink?”
“Not even water? Once we get inside the only outside food allowed has to be purchased from this kiosk.” I watched as she approached the kiosk, buying a few bags of applesauce, gummy candy, and sugar-free chocolates. This was in addition to a bottle of water. The total of which was more than I made in a single paycheck.
“The military pays that well?”
“Tricare does,” the young officer said as she walked towards a unit of rooms. “Basically, I can take my husband and daughter to any clinic I want and apply for reimbursement after the fact.”
“Your daughter?” Was the little girl sick?
“Yeah, for her vaccines, healthy kid milestone appointments,” she paused in her steps. “Oh no, she doesn’t have cancer.” The way the young mother laughed at this seemed a little too cold. Then again, I didn’t know her full story.
Little Ella was fidgeting in her mother’s arms. “I want Dada! Dada!”
Grace put her down, allowing her to run down the hall. Again, I tried not to be worried. This was none of my business.
Entering the room, I was overwhelmed with emotion. My life was a steaming pile of fuck-all; I lost my family and I sure as fuck wouldn’t be able to die in a posh place like this. But yet these people surrounded by love, were in the worse pain of their lives.
Grace’s husband was a sickly thin blond man, who wore sunglasses over his tragically blue eyes. He looked old enough to be her father. Then again, that’s what people always said about me and my wife. And I knew chemo took a lot out of someone. The poor guy could have been twenty-one for all I knew
I was grateful for clinics that allowed people to make the choice to die in their own homes surrounded by holistic healers, or to die in a safe place with an amazing view. I held out my hand, greeting him the same as any other person. “I’m Rey, I gave your family a ride.”
“You don’t look like an Uber driver,” he said, with a distinct southern accent.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Life could always be worse (until it was worse.) There was a moment of silence as Grace handed out the snacks.
“Supplemental nutrients,” she said, opening a protein bar.
I could see a few nurses shooting us dirty looks. “I don’t think you’re allowed to eat in here.”
“We can do whatever we want,” Grace said, kicking her legs over her husband’s lap. she turned to see the same group of nurses I’d noticed. They seemed ready to call the police. Grace turned to Jamie. “How many more minutes do you have?”
“I think just three.”
“Ok, cool. I’ll finish this in the bathroom. You good with Ella?”
The little girl with her blonde hair pulled back in a loose braid; looked so much like her daddy, it was breaking my heart. She was well on her way to falling asleep like a comfortable housecat. “Dada.” The word slipped out as a squeak, melting the hearts of every warm-blooded creature within a twenty-mile radius.
I knew that Grace expected me to push Jamie’s wheelchair outside, to the patio where we could enjoy a level of privacy. I waited until the timer ran out, before politely asking one of the nurses to disconnect Jamie from all of the cords tethering him to the wall, so we could go outside.
An older black woman took the call. She stood at about six feet tall, with a fierce, no-nonsense look in her eyes. “Are you a friend of the family?”
“Not really, I mean I guess.” That answer was a little too truthful, I needed to backpedal. “I’m a friend of Lt Grace, but this is my first time meeting her family.”
“You refer to her as Lt Grace?” The way she glared at me brought about memories of high school. I glanced at her name badge; Dr. Latisha Queen. Yes, that was who she looked like; Queen Latifah, in her later works she always came off as the strict (but motherly character) who was always ready to act as the bouncer.
Luckily this time she gave me the benefit of the doubt (I assumed this was because I was significantly less annoying than Grace.) “You can take him outside, but please stay by the south exit.” she motioned to a specific door. Even from where I was, I could see this location was covered in security cameras.
“Yes, Ma’am, thank you so much for your help,” I said in my ‘I just got sent to the principal’s office but I still have a chance of making it out of here,’ voice.
When Jamie was disconnected from the wall of cords, we were able to head outside for some fresh air. He turned to me with a look of compassion. “So, what are you exactly?”
“What did you mean by that?”
“You’re not a driver, you’re not a soldier. You might be a cop.” Jamie reached for something in his pocket. I immediately recognized it as a pre-rolled marijuana joint. He shifted his sleeping daughter in his arms.
“And you just happened to find my wife?”
“I was with a search unit, chipping away at the forest area until we could find any evidence of the bodies.”
“Some real true crime shit.”
“Yeah, that’s why we were told to look for clues; clothing, body parts, anything that seems sus. I always found that strange. Maybe I watch too much tv, but it always feels like the guilty party would always be one step ahead, hiding the body in one place, and when it seems like the police are gaining ground. They’d move it to a different one; park to the forest, to that weird uncle who make his living selling scrap metal out of his trailer. ” Back and forth, until eventually someone gets arrested. “Have you ever watched that movie, Ripley Underground?”
“It wasn’t a big hit, but it had the greatest ‘moving bodies’ subplot. Let’s just say they make it look easy.”
Jamie nodded. “What family do you work for?”
“Salazar.” Or at least I did. Pretty sure the Colombian mafia wouldn’t want me back, even if I could somehow prove I wasn’t a narc.
“Do they have your back?”
As much as I hoped for the positive, I was a realist. “No, not likely.”
“Are you on a work-release program?”
“Pretty much.” I didn’t want to tell him, or anyone, too much about my past. I knew I was already up shit-creek for taking off with the hot milf and her young daughter.
“So, what are your plans? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I was just going to wait for Grace to get back, and then head out.”
Jamie nodded again, his mind in a blissful state of calm even without the cigarette. “Are you a father?”
“Yes, Sir.” I took Ella from his arms, giving Jamie space to light up his cigarette.
“I heard marijuana is really bad for kids?”
“You can just hold her over your shoulder for a bit. Or you can head back inside and just wait for Gracie.”
I turned my head, waiting for Grace to emerge from her bathroom/snack break. “Are you from around here?”
“Nah, Grace and I were born in the Dakotas,” he said facing the sunlight. “I want to get back there someday; back to my family farm, my animals, my livelihood.”
“So, you came here for Grace?”
“I had to. She made it worth my time. I sold my farm, my land.”
“She made you give up your land?”
“I signed it over to people I trusted. Hopefully it’s not a meth lab by the time we get back there. But even if it is, I can just torch the place and start over. That’s what life is.”
Grace strutted out the door like a supermodel. She grabbed the joint, taking a brief drag before sitting on his lap. “What are we talking about?”
I answered hesitantly, feeling not unlike a third wheel. “I was just asking what brought your lovely family from the Dakotas to New Jersey.”
“Oh, did my sweet Jamie tell you about how I made it his problem?
“You made it his problem?” That seemed like an odd choice of words.
“When I graduated from West Point, I was supposed to go to Italy. But I used my travel time to get Jamie tested. At first it was to see if he was even healthy enough to fly. It started with a cat scan, MRI.”
“I think you mean CT scan.”
“That’s what I said?” Grace rolled her eyes. “Everyone calls it a cat scan, right?”
“Computed tomography scan,” I said, my voice trailing off. I knew I had just opened myself up to further probing. “Was this followed up with surgery?”
“First there was the colonoscopy, which justified surgery. then there was the matter of getting my orders changed since there was absolutely no way in Hell, I would be leaving my husband’s side.” Grace rested her head on Jamie’s shoulder. “So, the US military could either eat the cost of my college education or send my family someplace stateside.”
“Where were you supposed to go?”
“Italy. I’m a psychology major so I would have been given the opportunity to perform analysis on PTSD and other combat disorders.”
“Sounds interesting,” I said, making every attempt to remain focused on the conversation, as the sound of sirens approached.
Suddenly Nurse Queen started walking in our direction. “I think the two of you need to leave.”
“Ok, fine.” Grace picked up Ella, before looking in my direction. “You ready?
Nurse Queen stepped between us. “No. Nope.” In the moment of confusion, she managed to lift Ella from my arms. “You are not taking that baby.”
“Lady, how do you think we got here?”
“You’re lucky I’m going to overlook that. Now get your ass off my property.”
I knew what she meant; she’d be willing to give us a head start if we left right now. I held out my hand to Grace.
The young mother was rightfully annoyed. “Promise me you will get her on the bus with her daddy.”
“You know I will, Grace, you can trust me.”
Somehow, I managed to get Grace down the emergency exit. By the time we made it to the first floor, I was carrying her. We peeled out of the parking lot, heading in the direction of the base. I already knew what this looked like; I would be lucky to escape with my life.
As we approached the main gate there was already a crowd of MPs just itching to draw their weapons.
I killed the engine, and got off my bike, placing my hands behind my head. “This is Lt. Grace McCallum works on base I was just giving her a ride.”
I knew I was about to be led away in handcuffs, but I didn’t move until a military police officer called for someone to give Grace a ride back to on-base housing.
She was taken away in the opposite direction. Only after she was gone did I realize I was still in possession of the notebook.
And now I’m in a cell. Not that I mind. Once I finish this, I’m going to see about getting this back to Lt. Grace.
‘There is something about that girl.’ Razor ended his notes with a quick sketch that looked just strange enough to be me.
This felt weird, wrong. Yes, this was all wrong. I closed the book, putting it someplace safe before heading to bed. “Hey, Jamie.” My voice trembled as I walked past an abnormally dark window. The moon was high and the base was lit up like a neon sign. And yet this one corner was completely black.
“Hey.” I could hear the sounds of my sick husband attempting to get out of bed. “Is everything ok with Ella?”
That had been my previous task; put Ella to bed, stay with her until she fell asleep, before returning to the master bedroom.
“Yeah, she’s fine. She liked taking the patient bus with her Daddy. Everything is just fine.” Jamie’s next appointment was not for another week. He would get to stay at home and cook for our baby. That made him happier than any farm. I just needed to stick to my side of the deal and don’t allow myself to fall for the one person who could ruin everything. Although I had to admit, Rey was one hell of an artist.