I Stayed; I Wasn’t Abandoned. (Hurricane Harvey Log 1)

Author’s note: This is the first, maybe only story, of my experience during Hurricane Harvey. It’s honestly the most important part of those days to me. I tried to incorporate this into the larger story of those few days but it just wouldn’t fit. So, I pulled it out as its own piece.

Seven years ago, I was on a bus when my sister called. She called to let me know she was moving out of our apartment (abandoning me). The rent was half paid, light bill past due, and she emptied the kitchen. We had been living together for nine years. We had moved five times together. Then she moved without me. I didn’t like that she abandoned me. But I couldn’t hate her. She was my sister.

I stayed in that apartment for another month and a half. The light got turned off, mosquitoes ate me in my sleep, a cold front nearly froze me. I made do with a small lantern to push back the dark and a radio to dispel the silence at night.

I stayed with friends for a little while then moved into an efficiency apartment. I lived alone for the first time in nine years. A friend introduced me to her friend who needed a roommate.

Six years later, now, Hurricane Harvey hit my city. My roommate left the city. She offered to take me with her when she left. I stayed. After the hurricane had passed, when the light was still off, I found the lantern and radio in my closet. I turned them on at night and for a brief moment I was alone in that apartment again. Abandoned, discarded, useless. But I wasn’t. I stayed (I wasn’t abandoned) because (I don’t want to be a burden)(She doesn’t really want me to go with her)(I deserve to stay) I …

I wasn’t abandoned. Everyday she sent messages asking if I was ok. She told me to drink the case of water she had bought before she left. She reminded me of the small grill she had in case I had to boil water. When she came back, she said I was never staying behind again because she worried too much.

The situations aren’t the same but a wound I didn’t know I was carrying is starting to mend.

The Consultant – A Francine Non-Adventure

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“Detective Karter, thank you for seeing me,” I said. I had shown up at the precinct and asked to see the detective, a few minutes later he walked out holding a file folder.

“Sure, what can I do for you?” He had the same leather jacket, unshaved, rumpled look from the first time we met even though it was barely past noon.

“There’s something I noticed the night of … the night I found the body in my living room. The victim was killed by a single cut across his neck. Arterial blood spray was found on the wall along with a smeared handprint presumably from the victim trying to catch himself as he fell dying.”

“You got all that from the few seconds you saw the body when you found it?”

“I had to walk past it to retrieve my medicine and the coroner was talking about the crime scene with someone.” The coroner had been fairly loud and loose-lipped about the body’s condition.

“We’ve already reconstructed the series of events,” he said unimpressed.

“Did you notice the blood spray overlaps the handprint?”

He frowned for a second before opening the folder he was carrying. How convenient that he just happened to be walking around with the relevant folder. He shuffled through some papers and photos until he found what he was looking for and stopped staring at the photo. He eyes widened and he looked at me.

“How did you see that?” he asked.

“I’m really observant.” He let out a short loud barking laugh. “And I have a little experience with investigation.”

“Do you know what this means?” He closed the folder

“The crime scene was staged and the victim was killed somewhere else,” I said.

“Yeah.” He seemed to zone out for a second staring over my head mumbling to himself, “Probably all of them were staged.” There had been more murders like the one I found in my living room. Murders the detective thought were connected.

“A serial killer,” I said aloud. My speaking snapped the detective back into the moment. His head darted back and forth looking around the room. He grabbed my arm and pulled me down the hall into a meeting room. Once the door was shut he began to pace.

“We think there have been four murders, including the one you found. The crime scenes are virtually identical, which would make sense if they’re staged.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Six weeks since the first murder. Two weeks since we started thinking it might be a serial killer. Four days since we all but confirmed it. He kills every two weeks. We’ve been keeping it quiet because we have almost nothing to go on except the crime scenes. Now we don’t even have the real crime scenes just the fake ones the killer gave us.” He stopped leaned over the table head down.

“Well I think I’ll be going now,” I said. He head snapped up.

“Wait, I could use some fresh eyes on this. You said you’ve done investigative work before? Were you a P.I.?”

“Not exactly.” Girl detective was kind of hard to put on a resume.

“Doesn’t matter. I can get you clearance as a consultant. Strictly in-house. You wouldn’t have to go to crime scenes or hit the streets.” That I knew was a lie. I’m sure the detective believed what he was saying but I knew how these kinds of stories went. First I’m just working at a desk until a hot lead comes in. We rush to follow the lead and blammo! we’re in a shootout with the suspect. After that, I’m basically his sidekick following him around giving him insight into crimes he otherwise couldn’t solve. No thank you.

“I would rather not get more involved,” I said waving away his offer. It was better this way I would go back to my normal life and this killer would be caught in due time even without my help. I turned, grabbed the doorknob, and a thought passed through my mind. The killer always returns to the scene of the crime. It’s a silly cliché but silly clichés held more weight in my world than others. I could return home but that didn’t mean the killer would come after me there for whatever reason. Was this a buddy cop show or a crime thriller? Could I choose?

I turned back to Detective Karter and said, “You know, I think I can help you.”

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Deep Cover

In one of the dead end alleys of the cubical farm, one of the dedicated workers leaned backwards in their chair and whispered around the barrier to their neighbor, “Hey have you seen Agent Johnson?”

Their neighbor scooted her chair out and answered, “She’s still undercover.”

“But we busted the exotic animal smuggling operation two weeks ago.  There was a shoot out and everything.”  Their eyes narrowed in confusion.

“Well, she said it would compromise future operations if they broke cover right after the bust.”

They leaned back into their cubical and scooted their chair out into the alley as well, “They?”

“Her ‘wife’ and ‘kid’ are still undercover with her,” she said.

“Wait, wait, where did we get the kid?  Aren’t his parents going to want him back?”

“His parents were agents.  After they died in the line of duty, he became a ward of the agency.  Unofficially he’s a junior agent if such a thing existed.”

They shook their head slowly.  “Jeez, that’s rough.  What about the ‘wife’?”

“Oh, she’s loving the suburban life.  Her apartment was on Third street.  The bad part of Third street.”

Their eyebrows shot up their forehead, “Wow, I know our salaries aren’t great but third street?”

“She has student loans and bad credit from identity theft.  Couldn’t get in anywhere else.”

“The agency could help with that?” they asked.

She spread her hands in front of her and shrugged.  “Not their problem as long as she showed up to work.  But now she’s in a nice house in the suburbs with a kid and wife.”

“I guess but they have to break cover at some point.”

“I heard the chief talking about moving them to witness protection.”

“They’re just going to become a family?”

“The Chief is a really good matchmaker.  We lose more agents to his team-ups than anything else.  Also, they had a big bonding moment during the car chase slash rescue slash shoot out.”

“I wonder if it’s too early to apply for a promotion?”

The Scrapbook – A Francine Non-Adventure

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A week had passed since I had found a dead man in my living room. Something about this felt familiar. I went to the top shelf of my closet. All the way in the back and pushed to one side, I found the box. I pulled it down and took it into the living room. The box was plain brown, its flaps were bent and creased and slid open easily. Inside was a penlight long since dead, seven tattered pocket notebooks, a watch with glow in the dark numbers and hands, a skeleton key from one of our cases, and the scrapbook.

The cover had colorful letters that said “Margaret and Francine’s Adventure Book”. The first couple of pages were just photos of me and Margaret as young kids. After that, the newspaper clippings started. “Kids Find Dognapped Show Dog” was the first one. The accompanying photo was of two kids on either side of a dog. The original color photo was also on the page. I studied the two children, Margaret was smiling broadly, she had been so excited to solve a “mystery”. I was smiling as well but not the face-splitting grin Margaret had. Did I know then? Maybe I had just started to figure out. The caption read, “Ten-year-olds, Margaret (left) and Francine (right) found Dixie (center) in the cellar of an abandoned house.” I touched the liquid paper that covered my deadname. Someone had carefully printed my name on top.

I flipped quickly through the following pages. Not every adventure had ended with a front-page story. Most barely rated a short blurb in the weekly Oddities and Curiosities column. Everyone was collected in the scrapbook, interspaced with photos of us taken by our private photographer, my mom. A couple of years floated by until I reached the two-page spread dedicated to the Case of the Crooked Beauty Pageant. The big photo under the headline, “Beauty Pageant Scandal!!”, was of the finalists in their formal wear. I was third from the end.

Margaret had heard rumors the pageant’s voting was rigged. The fact that Jennifer Grey had been crowned two years in a row suggested something might have been hinky. So, we entered the pageant. I hadn’t meant to enter but during the summer I had been too busy with our adventures to get a haircut and puberty hadn’t yet hit me hard. When the woman at the registration desk asked for my name, Margaret had jumped at the chance to have both of us backstage. The dresses, swimsuits, and makeup were all strange and confusing to me but the rest, being seen and treated as a girl, had just felt right. Perhaps if I had actually been a boy it would have bothered me. Maybe I would have put up more of a fight when Margaret suggested I compete. Instead, I had loved all of it, well except for the chase through the hotel in a ballgown.

After the pageant, which had been fixed by Jenifer’s father bribing the judges, I went back to living as a boy, mostly. I flipped a couple pages to the next big case we had a few months later. The Case of the Silver Teeth. The teeth belonged to the grandfather of a local judge. They had been “misplaced” after a small fire in the judge’s house. In the photo Mom had taken, we’re holding the teeth between us with the judge behind us. My hair is still uncut held back by a headband. The judge had called us the best girl detectives he had ever seen. Mom had corrected him but it hadn’t bothered me.

I flipped a few more pages to a photo of the two of us standing next to a mud covered safe. My hair is short, cropped almost to the root. Do I look as unhappy as I felt? I’m smiling in the photo but I know I wasn’t happy. A week earlier I had cut my hair off after one too many remarks from a classmate. Peer pressure, bullying, or whatever you want to call it had finally forced me back into societal norms. I was miserable and couldn’t understand why.

Several pages later I was wearing a skirt and a jaunty beret to cover my still short hair, posing with Margaret and the Mayor. We had helped him find his father’s pocket watch. Not the most compelling case we ever had but the most important one to me. It was during this case that I came out as trans. Mom had accepted me almost immediately once I had dug up enough courage to tell her. Dad was hesitant but came around fast. Margaret had laughed and said it was about time. She had picked up on it during the pageant and had tried to subtly encourage me. The Mayor had been confused that the boy and girl detectives he had contacted were two girls by the end but he rolled with it.

The rest of the scrapbook was adventure after adventure. In photo after photo, I could see myself and Margaret grow up. There was no newspaper clipping to go along with our last adventure that had nearly ended with us in jail. The last photo was taken just after we graduated high school. Soon after we had gone to different colleges and lost touch.

I closed the scrapbook. What was I doing? Reminiscing about the “Good Old Days” to what end? A dead man had been found in my living room. I had an almost airtight alibi. There was no reason for me to involve myself with the investigation. As a “kid detective”, if I hadn’t gotten involved, Margaret would have. That was all behind me, wasn’t it? I had been fighting against getting involved with these “stories” that seemed to spawn around me for years. This felt familiar, though we had never seen a dead body or investigated a murder. It was a mystery and I understood mysteries. Maybe I could subvert the story. Stay a step ahead of it and … solve it without needing to be kidnapped or stumbling onto the bad guys.

What was I thinking? I’m in the clear. I just need to let the police do their jobs and find the killer. Just keep my head down and nothing will happen to me. I put the scrapbook back in the box, closed it and shoved the box back on the closet shelf. Yeah just leave it alone, I thought and closed the closet.

I walked back into my living room. The cleaners had done a great job. I couldn’t even tell where the carpet had been soaked with blood. The blood splatter on the wall was gone as well. The bloody handprint, erased except from my memory. Something clicked in my head. I grabbed my notebook and wrote down a note. I would call the detective tomorrow about it but surely he or someone else had noticed it too. I would just make sure they had noticed it, that was all. I wasn’t getting involved. I wasn’t.

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