Slowly blinking her eyes open, Mariah was oblivious to her current location and how she had arrived; sitting slumped over on cold, damp cement with her back against a wall, she straightened up to get a better view of her surroundings. The stench tickling the hairs of her nostrils was so putrid, her first instinct was to guard her nose, but she quickly realized it would be nearly impossible– both hands were bound by zip-ties to narrow, rusty support beams at each side. Looking around as fear engulfed her entire being, she wanted to scream for help from Jesus, her father, mother or anyone– but she decided against it due to mounting unknown factors.

The room was mostly dark with a single light source located beyond her sight’s reach. After careful inspection, Mariah surmised that she was in a spacious basement of some sort, surrounded by what appeared to be other people in the same predicament; only, the others did not appear to be moving– she counted eight in total.

Was she soon to be a victim of the very same operation she had been spying on? Straining her eyes, Mariah desperately searched through the dark for identifying attributes of those sitting beside her seemingly unconscious. From what she could tell, they were petite in frame and had hair, though varying in length. Puddles surrounded each prisoner from their butts to their feet; now she could partially decipher the offensive odor assaulting her senses– human waste.

One of the other victims stirred slightly and then let out a violent cough, followed by torturous gagging. If not fully convinced by appearance, the pitch of the coughing fit revealed to Mariah the person was in fact a female (as were the rest)– which caused an intense proliferation of her fear.

“Hey, are you ok?” Mariah whispered– the girl was only a few feet away.

“Dónde está mi mama?” she shouted in distress after catching her breath.

“Shhhhh! Don’t yell! Do you speak any English?” Mariah suddenly wished she had remained quiet and observant.

A door could be heard opening and closing in the distance with a resounding echo; everyone else who previously appeared immobilized moved instantly, sitting upright in unison.

The sound of heavy foot steps ensued followed by a deep sinister voice, “Alright now . . .which one of you sweet ladies is next? Don’t all volunteer at once!”

****

Star,

If you are reading this letter, then it means you found my body. I’m so sorry to bring you more sorrow. Seems to be all I could give you throughout this whole relationship. But I just couldn’t live with this secret anymore. It was eating me alive! Now I can finally tell the truth and hopefully my soul can get some rest in the afterlife, because there is no way I can go on with this guilt and pain haunting me, disturbing my peace.

When Trinity’s life was taken, I tried my very best to console you and make you smile again. But I knew you would never fully be happy not knowing what truly happened as well as not getting even an ounce of justice for her murder. Well now I give you both. Star, I am so sorry to tell you it was me who hit Trinity. The surprise I had to show you was this new car and a nice trip I had planned. When I was texting you, I wasn’t paying attention to the road, and she just came out of nowhere. Please forgive me baby. I tried to tell you so many times, but I knew you would hate me. At least now you can get some satisfaction from my death. I hope you can find your happiness again. I love you baby.

Charles

Tears and confusion filled to the brim as Star mentally registered what she had just read; she waited for other emotions to surface before moving a muscle. Why can’t I feel anything? Star continued to stand rigid for several minutes before reading the letter again. After she had reviewed it so many times that she could recite almost every word, she knelt beside Chucky’s lifeless body and scrupulously examined every inch, moving and adjusting him with the ease of a mortician.

For a moment while reading the letter the first time, Star had almost felt a sense of relief. Though each word was similar to knives slowly penetrating her mind, she had almost been freed from the torture of the unknown– wondering if the person had done it on purpose and would be back to claim the lives of her other children. Her previous gang activity made her a likely target for vengeful actions as such, so many nights she sat up thinking her daughter’s death was completely her fault.

She was almost there– nearly free of paranoia and confusion; that is, up until she read the word ‘baby’. At the sight of the word, she cringed. Then shortly after that, the word appeared again. Chucky never called her pet names like “bae’, ‘baby’, ‘sweetie’, or anything similar because Star made it clear early on that she wasn’t like anyone else he had ever been with before. She hated those names which blanketed all lovers (past and current) into one category. Star was one of a kind and she insisted on being called by her name, exclusively. Another abnormality she noticed in the letter was his signature. He signed the name Charles. Why would he sign a name he refused to accept throughout his entire life? Previously, he’d briefly mentioned that he was named after his father– the same guy he witnessed beat his mother to a pulp on a daily basis in his younger years. He NEVER referred to himself as Charles nor signed his name that way. Something was up, and right now Star’s mind was in shambles attempting to uncover the truth behind this startling discovery.

There was one thing Star was certain of: Chucky did not write this suicide letter. So since HE didn’t write it, then obviously he did not take his own life either– this was murder accompanied by a weak cover-up. She figured whoever had done this must have also been involved in Trinity’s tragic death, and somehow Star had a feeling these separate events were related to the night at Shands when she witnessed body bags being delivered into the hospital morgue.

Mariah’s face popped into her psyche. Star recollected her state of mind before this lengthy distraction and realized that Mariah was most likely in serious danger, if not already slain as well. But how could she possibly find her? Panic entered without warning. For the first time since viewing her child’s lifeless body on the pavement, Star felt helpless. She didn’t know how she would pull it off, but it was evident that she had to take these people down with the stakes now as high as ever. This meant war, and Star had much ground to gain if she was going to be victorious. There was no time to waste, she had to retrieve her daughters and relocate to a more discreet location– this operation was clearly more dangerous and complex than she had ever imagined. It was time to go on the defense. Hopefully after finding a safe place, she could devise a plan to rescue Mariah. Until then all she could do was fervently pray for her safety and protection. I know we weren’t super close, but please Lord. Please keep her safe; she’s all I got to help me take these creeps down.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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