"Hand for Hand" Excerpt



     At the West Hollywood Sheriff Station, two cops sat me in a small room and left me alone. There wasn’t a clock to keep track of time, pictures on the white walls to admire, or a window to gaze out of, just a square table, three metal folding chairs, and a camera recording every move I made. The door opened, hastening my heartbeat.

    Through jumpy eyes, I watched a black man in a suit and tie and a white man in a golf shirt with khaki pants walk into the room. Detective Sergeant Carter and Detective Lazarus, they called themselves. Lazarus, the white detective, sat across the table from me and read my Miranda rights. I exercised my right to remain silent. Silence came easy for me. I had upheld my vow of silence out of shame and guilt for many years. This silence I upheld out of loyalty, knowing anything I said or did could be used against Vangie in a court of law.

     Carter, the black detective, said, “Call anyone you’d like to call—on me. We’ll step out of the room.” He held out a cell phone and smiled, an overly friendly smile that made me question his sincerity. 

     I thought of calling my mother. She was the only person I could call under the circumstances, but I knew she wouldn’t understand my decision to trade my life for Vangie’s freedom. I knew no one would understand it, and so I chose not to call anyone.

     “Don’t let my size intimidate you,” Carter said. “I’m not the bad cop, here to beat a confession out of you; I don’t even care about the evidence stacked against you. You know what I care about, Vangie? The truth. So does the victim’s family. They want answers and it’s our job to give them those answers. Wouldn’t you agree?”

     If I had answers to give, I would do everything in my power to clear Vangie’s name and prove her innocence. With six years and an ocean standing between Vangie and me, I knew very little about her life nowadays, no more than I knew about her life in the old days. The little I did know I’d learned from our mother. Vangie had recently graduated from law school, lived in Hollywood somewhere, and was wanted for murder. 


     Feeling reckless, Vangie left her hideout and walked the streets of Lyon, numb to the briskness of France in fall. Every pub and shop along the boulevard had closed, and there wasn’t a police car on patrol for Vangie to look out for. The most she had to worry about, according to the locals, was getting her pockets picked, which didn’t worry her either. Nothing worried Vangie tonight, neither life nor death. Living was her self-inflicted punishment of sorts, her misery a constant reminder that she didn’t deserve to live happily ever after.

     She took dawdling steps in stilettos, her coal-black hair draping her face and shoulders haphazardly, her eyes as dark and lifeless as the night. She wandered into Club Vingt-Et-Un, a trendy spot for the twenty-five and up crowd. Friday nights, before 11:00 PM, ladies entered free and men paid 20 euros. Vangie squeezed her way through the crowd of happy drunks and stationed herself at the lively bar. “French Blonde,” she ordered.

     The Bartender served up a tall cocktail and kissed her cheeks. “A la votre!” 

“Cheers!” Vangie threw back a mouthful of the citrusy gin, then stared out into the smoky atmosphere. People mixed and mingled, lounged on the velvet sofas, or danced on the floor flashing with flamboyant lights. She envied the vacationers who had traveled to this romantic country for its many charms and to hang out with the locals. To be young and free had forsaken her.

       After her third cocktail, a toasty feeling spread through her stomach, crept into her bloodstream, and deadened her senses. She floated onto the dance floor at the hand of a dark-haired Frenchmen. The floor swayed beneath her feet as she and her partner moved among partiers grinding, jumping, and bouncing to electro-pop music. Or was she the one grinding, jumping, and bouncing? Vangie was too drunk to know or to care. She danced the night away, hoping to forget.

     Regarding her with his bedroom eyes, the Frenchmen swerved his pelvis against hers suggestively. She thought she might puke right onto his Topsiders. She peeled his groping hands from her hips and shoved him off her. 

  “Ou’allez-vous,” he shouted after her as she made her way toward the door.Waving a tired hand over her shoulder, Vangie said, 

     “I’m going home!” Somewhere in her inebriated brain she thought, I don’t have a home. She would’ve cried had she not laughed out loud. It was all Vangie could do—laugh to keep from crying.

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