Thursday, April 8, 2010

In Search Of . . . pt. XI

The sky was heavy, a steel gray curtain draped across the sky. Mid-November and snow was in the air. Winter was coming early.

Over the past weeks, Keenan Archer had come to think of this front stoop up from the Mount Mariah church as his own. The clutter of trash, the crumbling plaster, the deep cracks along the sidewalk – they were all familiar to him now, comfortable the way an old pair of shoes feel when you slip them on in the morning. He’d been waiting, creating a persona through which he could infiltrate Karen Kaczmerak’s world, observing her habits, talking to people in the neighborhood, bribing when necessity dictated it.

Karen didn’t come out often. And when she did, she always had a big guy with her, Jamal. He was the local guardian angel, looking out for people, helping when he could. He seemed legit, not playing any angles, just embedded into the community. Keenan wasn’t looking for trouble, especially not from this guy. So he sat, and he waited.

It was shortly after ten when Karen emerged from the old church. She had a long, black cloak draped over her, only her lower legs and face visible beneath the heavy fabric. She didn’t look in his direction as Keenan stood up to follow.

Archer hung back, watching from a safe distance. Karen led him through Marcus Garvey Park, over to Malcolm X, and then two blocks down to a hundred-eighteenth. She stopped in front of a brownstone and paused. She seemed to be looking for something, but Archer couldn’t see what that might be. Then, at some unseen signal, she walked up the front steps, taking care to avoid the decay of the aging concrete. Once Karen disappeared, Archer followed.

Inside, the first floor was almost completely dark, bits of gray light peering in from the room on Keenan’s left. He could hear voices upstairs. Letting his eyes adjust, he scanned the stairwell for any rotted steps before making his way into the upper reaches of the building.

On the third floor, Archer found the crowd. The upper hallway was better illuminated – a combination of large gaps in the wall and, he assumed, well placed mirrors within each of the front rooms. Weaving through the knots of people, Archer came to the realization this was a bazaar. In each room a variety of people with tables, or cloths spread over the floor, had any number of items for sale – homemade remedies, old transistors and other electronics Keenan had only seen in vids, maps to foodstores that he knew to be fake, and a myriad of unnecessary baubles.

In one of the back rooms, Archer spotted Karen picking through some jewelry. From where he stood they appeared authentic, but Archer imagined they were only re-appropriated metals or weathered glass. He walked over to the corner where an elderly woman sat across from Karen, her trinkets spread out on a faded red cloth. Karen was kneeling, examining one of the pieces – a necklace with a deep green triangle hanging at its end. Keenan leaned over, scanning the pieces as if he were also shopping. When Karen stood up she bumped into him.

“Excuse me,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s all right,” said Keenan, and then he let his jaw slack just a little. “You’re the girl looking for her brother, aren’t you?”

Karen looked at him, puzzled. “Who are you?”

“Sorry,” said Keenan. “My name’s David Janson.” He held out his hand, but Karen refused to take it, taking a step back instead.

“I know Jamal,” Keenan said.

“Jamal never mentioned you,” she said, looking around the room to see who was listening.

“I don’t know him that well. He’s friends with my boy, Jackson.”

Karen glared at Keenan, working her way closer to the hallway.

Keenan spread his arms wide. “Listen,” he said. “Jamal was telling us about your situation one day. He showed us your pic, told us to keep a look out for your brother. Jax knew I used to do investigative work up on the border, asked me specifically to see if I could find anything.”

“Does Jamal know you’re looking?” asked Karen.

“No. I didn’t want to have him getting your hopes up until I had something concrete.”

“Why should I believe you?” Karen took another step toward the hall.

“Why not?” said Keenan. “Jamal hangs with Jackson, doesn’t he?”

Karen gave no indication whether this was true or not.

Keenan continued. “I’ve got no reason to hurt you. If I did, would I try it in a crowded place like this?” Keenan swiveled, looking around at the people milling about.

“Why don’t we start over.” Keenan held out his hand again. “Hello. My name is David Janson. I understand you’re looking for your brother. I would like to help, but it would be beneficial if I could learn a little more about him. Maybe we could get an iced coffee, talk things over? I know this Vietnamese woman, sells it out of her place. It’s fantastic.”

Karen’s brow wrinkled, considering.

“I promise, I won’t bite. Won’t even sit on the same side of the table,” said Keenan, the hint of a smile tugging at his lips. “And I’ll keep my hands where you can see them. No card tricks.” He held up his hands, turned them as if he were a stage magician convincing the crowd of his sincerity.

“Okay,” said Karen. “But, just talk.”

“Just talk,” said Keenan.

to be continued . . .

No comments: