***Margot Bradshaw’s home in Compton***
Mercy studied the house, what little she could see of it through the greenery. While every other place on the street had front lawns of brown grass, plain grey dirt, or even a couple that had been converted into concrete parking lots, this one looked like it belonged more in a jungle.
Other than a rose bush, she wasn’t even sure what all the flowers were. But as she stepped away from the Duchess, she noticed this was not your typical flower bed. There were tomatoes, peppers, and more stuff that she could not identify bursting from every inch of ground and too many pots to count.
“Stop right there, girl. This is private property,” she recognized the older woman who stood on the tiny porch as none other than the irascible Margot Bradshaw. With a walking stick that looked almost as tall as she was, the woman was more intimidating than any of the dozens of photos on the internet. It was almost enough to make her turn around and run. But signs pointed to this woman as holding the key to Selena Ortiz’s disappearance.
Their meeting in the park with Gena Bankole had provided them with more questions than answers. The woman had worked for Jolene Monroe for more than a decade, even before she became a partner with Tyson, Turner & Tyson, LLP. They were as much friends as employer and employee. Or they had been before Jo disappeared. At the same time as Selena. And Jo’s intern – this woman’s grandson.
Gena had spoken just once with Jo. The woman would give no clue as to what ‘family business’ had pulled her away from the career she had worked so hard to build. But what concerned Gena even more, was her own precarious position with the firm. She went from being the personal assistant of a senior partner to working with a relatively new associate. Not only was it a significant demotion, but the way that all of Jo’s cases, even the inactive ones, were reassigned sent alarm bells ringing in the woman. As if someone believed her friend would not be returning.
But that was all she could tell them. And Both Mercy and Will believed her. Not only did their gifts confirm the woman’s honesty, but she was already looking for another job, so she had no reason to lie.
They had also visited Jimena Ortiz’s cousin in East LA, where Selena had been staying. But they could be of no help. The girl was hardly ever there. Though the family did allow them to look around the room where she was staying. But there was nothing other than clothes, toiletries, and books there. Of course, these days, most appointments and schedules were kept on apps. Javier was still working on hacking into his sister’s emails and other accounts.
The church down the road had been the only other clue the couple could give them. But when they spoke to the young priest, he could not help them. Both of them were sure the man knew much more than he would tell them. But he steadfastly refused to break the confessional – even to protect her life. And those had been his words, not theirs. They could feel how much that troubled his soul as well.
The rest of the day had been spent online, researching everything they could find about Tyson, Turner & Tyson, LLP, Jo Monroe, and this woman’s grandson. Of course, they had also fed her cravings. The little restaurants in East LA had the best Mexican food she had ever tasted, even better than Torreon.
She felt the pang in her chest. She still did every time she thought of Roberto. She knew how Will felt about her half-brother, and she understood. But she had never had a brother. Her husband’s fingers laced through hers. He squeezed her hand and smiled gently. Will was the other craving that she had fed yesterday. And this morning too.
He tore his eyes away from her and stepped between her and the woman, walking down the path with that giant stick. “We’re sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Bradshaw….”
The woman shook her head, and giant hoop earrings tinkled, “Not another one.” Though Mercy did not know what the woman referred to, her frown said it was not good. “Ms. M-S. It’s the twenty-first century a woman is not defined by her marital status.”
He nodded his head, “My apologies. Of course not, Ms. Bradshaw. We just wanted to talk to you about your grandson.”
“You, a pig?”
Her husband actually took a single step back at the woman’s use of that derogatory term. “Former Houston PD and federal agent. But….”
“I don’t talk to pigs. No buts about it. So, just take your white woman and get off my property.”
Mercy felt the woman’s animosity to her core. But there was nothing she could do about the color of her skin. And she refused to allow this one’s opinion of her marriage to have any more effect on her than the racists who whispered behind their backs in Sebida. Though she did have to at least respect Margot Bradshaw for not hiding her feelings. “We’re here about a missing woman. As a feminist, I’m sure….”
“Missing woman? Do you have any idea of how many women of color go missing from….”
“There are over 64,000 missing black women in this country. And that’s just the ones that get reported to the police. Selena Ortiz may not be black, but she’s a woman of color too. Maybe you recognize my husband, Will….”
The woman turned then and stared at Will. She seemed to almost collapse if not for that stick. “You? You’re Caleb Williams?”
Mercy hoped that if the woman had heard of Will and what happened in Mexico, then perhaps….
But that was quickly dashed by the gun that Margot Bradshaw pulled from the pocket of her bright voluminous dress, “I won’t tell you again. Get off my property.”
Mercy stepped between the gun and her husband. She was unsure what they had said or done to anger this woman so much, but she wasn’t taking it from her any more than she had from Tad Meadows. “This sidewalk isn’t your property. It belongs to the City of Los Angeles.”
Before things could get any more heated, two men, perhaps a bit younger than Will, came out of the house. One wore red and the other blue. Mercy might be from Sebida, but she wasn’t stupid. She recognized gang colors when she saw them.
And the way that Will pushed her behind him said he did too. “We don’t want any trouble. We just wanted to ask Ms. Bradshaw a couple of questions about her grandson Donovan.”
The one in blue came to stand toe-to-toe with Will over the chain-link fence. While the man in red tried to pull the old woman back towards the house. “I think my grandmother made it clear that we don’t talk to the po-lice about anything.”
The man stared over his shoulder at her, “Your fine ass is right. That sidewalk does belong to the city. You can stand there all damned night for all I care. My grandmother still won’t answer your question about some cute little Latina.”
Mercy’s gut told her that these people definitely knew more than they were saying. She was more than tempted to do just as the man said and stay there all night. And day too if necessary. Until one of them was willing to at least answer their questions.
But Will’s arm around her waist was drawing her back to where the Duchess sat by the side of the road. “Why are we leaving? They know more….”
He nodded as his eyes followed the two men as they led the old woman back to the porch, where another middle-aged woman now stood staring at them. “And that woman won’t talk to us. But I might know someone who she will.”
Mercy shook her head, “Who?” Something in the pit of her stomach tightened even before he opened his mouth. This was going somewhere she wasn’t sure she wanted. But didn’t Selena Ortiz deserve someone in her corner as they had been, and still were, in Bebe’s.
“The woman who gave birth to me.”
“Your mother? Why would the woman talk to her? Ain’t she paR-kin the caR in HaR-vaRd yaRd?”
“Sweetheart, I’ve listened to you, your mama, and sisters. I wouldn’t be making fun of anyone’s accent if I were you.”
Mercy stuck out her bottom lip and pretended to pout as she put on her helmet. But Will seemed too distracted by something on his phone to notice. “So what makes you think that Margot Bradshaw would talk to your mother?”
He turned towards her, “Don’t call her that. Mariam Williams was never my mother any more than Ignacio Garcia was your father.” He held out his phone to her.
Mercy looked down to one of the images they had found when they researched this woman. She shrugged and passed it back to him, “Okay, but I still don’t get it. What’s so important about that picture? And why do you think it will make her talk to the woman who gave birth to you?” This time she acceded to his terminology for the woman.
Will pointed to another figure that stood several feet behind a much younger Margot Bradshaw. The woman was half turned and her face mainly in the shadows, “Because I’m almost certain that is Miriam.”
Mercy took the phone from his hand and studied the image. Between the small screen size, the age of the photo, and those shadows, she could not make out any details. “So, what? You’re gonna call her and ask her to speak to the woman?”
He shook his head before securing his own helmet, “No. Tomorrow, we go see her.”
Mercy knew her mouth was open so wide that gnats could just fly straight down her throat. Will must have noticed, too, because he leaned in. Their helmets clanked together a bit as he took advantage. Kissing her until she forgot her own name, let alone what they were doing in Compton.
When he was finished, his fingers lifted her chin and closed her lips, “She’s guest lecturing here in Southern California right now. Probably doing more research.” He shook his head and looked back at the house, “Maybe even hooking up again with my ‘revolutionary’ sperm donor. For all I know, she’s already in touch with that woman.” Mercy leaned her head against his shoulder as the Duchess engine purred to laugh.
Behind his anger, she felt all the pain and hurt of the little boy. It was a feeling that her own little girl knew all too well. And even all those weeks caring for Ignacio Garcia, cleaning his shit, and cooking his food, had done nothing to heal her wounds. His words that final night still haunted her. Sometimes closure just wasn’t to be found. But for her husband’s sake and the little girl growing inside her, she hoped for a better outcome with Professor Miriam Williams.