In the Night of the Heat
A Tennyson Hardwick novel
By Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes and Blair Underwood
One World; ISBN: 0345447336
Excerpt: April didn’t use the doorbell anymore, not since I had given her a key. At ten after seven, she let herself in after two quick, shy knocks.
Who is THAT? I thought in the millisecond before I remembered she was my girl. April had changed her hairstyle, framing her face with chin-length braids in the front, elegantly styled into a shorter page-boy style in the back. Her haircut made a dramatic shift on her face, from cute and girlish to queenly. For a year solid, I hadn’t touched anyone else. Monogamy was the last thing I’d expected in this lifetime.
My girl. My girlfriend. My life had a new vocabulary.
April undressed herself bit by bit as she crossed the room toward me; her jacket on the coat rack, her hat on the sofa. April’s ivory sweater, stretched tautly across her bosom, made me wish we were on our way upstairs. April docked herself against me. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. Her lips brushed too quickly across mine. “You won’t believe...”
I interrupted her, holding her still for a kiss with a little flavor. Her lips relaxed, offering nectar. Then she pulled away shyly, as she always did when Dad was nearby. April was smiling, but she wasn’t planning to stay. I could see it in her eyes.
“So get this: The brother’s car blew up,” April went on. “They chase him for nearly eight miles, and his Ferrari flips into a ditch. This poor old lady he broadsided on La Cienega might not wake up, but of course he walks away without a scratch.”
April’s stories from work made me feel tired. After staring down a gun-barrel in the desert that day, I felt no schadenfreude. But April hadn’t been with me in the desert. She was a police reporter, and death entertained her just fine.
“They’re lucky nobody got killed,” April went on. “These police chases are out of control. Yeah, he robbed a bank, but sometimes guilty people go free. Deal with it.”
“Saw it on TV,” Dad called from the kitchen.
Dad had hooked April up with police sources more than once, old buddies from his Hollywood division, many of whom had risen high on the ladder and were willing to speak off the record. Retired Captain Richard Allen Hardwick and April Forrest were becoming a formidable team.
“Where’s Chela?” April asked me.
“Chess club, ‘til eight-thirty. She said not to wait.”
April lowered her chin, skeptical. “Chess?”
“I bribed her into giving it a try.”
“How much of a bribe?”
Dad wheeled himself into the dining room, a large plate of warm nachos on his lap. Suddenly, I was surrounded by observers.
“An iPhone,” I said. “Let’s eat.”
“Plainfoolishness,” Dad said, or something like it. With words at easy disposal, Dad would have been ranting. A nascent rant glimmered in his eyes. April sighed, too. Tag-team.
The fact was, it was Chela’s second chess club meeting in a month, which was more commitment than she had given the drama club. Chela needed to buy into something new, and chess had a nice ring to it. Better, by far, than her former hobbies. Besides, Chela hadn’t come around to liking April yet, and wasn’t sorry to miss Thursday dinner.
For now, separate corners worked best.
Dad mumbled grace too low to hear, the only time he spoke at length without self-consciousness. We couldn’t quite make out the words, but the gratitude in his voice needed no translation.
“Amen,” he finished.
April’s face lit up. “Oh, Ten, don’t forget—the Tau fund-raiser is tomorrow night.”
I searched my memory, and came up dry.
“The scholarship fund, remember? You signed up for the celebrity booth. People come up and take pictures with you. The committee chair loves ‘Homeland,’ and she was so excited when I said you’d come. Give me the dates for your episodes, and she’ll have all our sorors Tivo you.”
I’d forgotten all about the fund-raiser. When April’s work week ended, her community work began. Her exhausting schedule was one of the reasons we saw so little of each other.
“So you’re tied up tomorrow night?” I said.
“But if you’re there with me...” she said playfully, and grinned. Her dimples wrestled the disappointment right out of me.
“Okay.” It was hard to say no to April, another growing problem.
I felt Dad beaming silently across the table. He must have thought he’d arrived in Heaven early. If police captains had the same powers as ship captains, he would have married me to April on the spot. He'd just heard me commit my Friday night to a scholarship fund-raiser hosted by one of the country’s most prestigious black fraternities, Tau Alpha Gamma. Dad was a Tau, too, but I had refused to pledge during my year in college, mainly because I knew how badly he wanted me to. Dad never left the house except to see his doctor, so I knew better than to invite him.
“Thanks, Ten.” April draped an arm over me when she kissed my cheek, which gave me hope that she might come upstairs after dinner. “Guess who else committed today? T.D. Jackson.” Her voice soured. “He must be on a goodwill tour before his trial. You know it must be for a good cause if I can stand to be in the same room with him. I’ll have to meditate first.”
T.D. Jackson. Fallen football and action star, accused of murdering his ex-wife and her fiancé. Despite a mountan of physical and circumstantial evidence, he'd been acquitted in the criminal trial six months before. No surprise there. The rich and famous rarely go to prison. Justice would have another crack at him, though: The civil trial would begin in a week.
Twenty years before that, T.D. Jackson lived in my dormitory suite for about three months while I was at Southern California State. He was a star from the moment he set foot on campus. What I remember most was the parade of girls to and from his door. Once, I ran into him in the bathroom as he flushed a condom away at six in the morning. The lazy sneer on his face said: Most of you losers aren’t even out of bed yet, and I’ve already been laid.
T.D. Jackson made April crazy. The thought that he had gotten away with abusing and finally killing an upstanding sister seemed to keep her awake at night, as if his very existence set back the progress of civilization. Her teeth were already grinding.
“Innocent until proven guilty,” I reminded her.
Dad and April both made comments, but they kept them under their breath. The guilt or innocence of T.D. Jackson and what his case did or didn’t say about the roles of race and gender in the criminal justice system had already spiced our dinner conversations.
But I was glad I would run into T.D. again. I didn’t expect him to remember me, but I looked forward to shaking his hand and staring into his eyes. Wondered what I would see there. If I was right, T.D.’s eyes would probably broadcast the same thing April had just told me herself:
Sometimes guilty people go free. Shit happens.
Deal with it.
© Copyright 2008 by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes