Angelina progressed in school. She wasn’t the smartest but she was smart enough. She had learned recently that knowledge was power. Since then she had allowed her mind to absorb what ever academics had to offer. Angelina enjoyed the power she held over her family. She used words and sophistication as ways to outsmart her older siblings. She allowed her baby sister to take notes but not enough to fully surpass her. Her family was proud although they alienated her thereafter. She spoke enough like them to partake in family gatherings but in the end they knew they had nothing in common with her. Angelina was a member of her own kind in her family. She was not as feminine as her sisters. Nor was she as wild and crafty as her brothers. She had her genius and that was enough for her.
By the start of her year in the fifth grade she had learned to observe people and adapt to certain cliques. Something her brother had taught her one day when she was getting picked on in the park. He had defended her, probably the only time he ever would. Afterwards they walked home, each with mud in their eyes and only one with a busted lip. It was the only time Angelina ever had respect for that brother. As they walked home he lectured her on what she had done wrong.
“Don’t you pay attention? How the fuck don’t you see those type of guys around you? Fuckin’ watch people, Angel! They move, you notice but you can’t let them know you notice. So that when it comes to having to get away you’re the first one out. Blend in a little too. You were the only fucking girl there. Stay home.” Nene shook his head and limped on.
From that day on Angel could scarcely be taken by surprise. Even on days like her birthday. She learned to read people and read them well. Angelina prided herself on her judge of character. Something she figured she got from her father. She loved him dearly. Their relationship was something completely different. They communicated with few words. He spoke Spanish and she understood it but that language was forgotten to her. She had perfected her English not her native language. With what little she understood, she knew he loved her and expected a lot from her.
“Tienes que estudiar para que encuentres un buen trabajo enfrente de una computadora donde tengan aire condicionador.”You have to study so that you can find a good job in front of a computer, with air conditioning, he had said to her. She did love him dearly.
As her school years continued, her life around her began to grow. Her eldest sister, Patty, had recently dropped out of school and was now always around. Angel pitied her, at times. After all if knowledge was power, what became of one without knowledge? On one of the few days she was allowed to accompany her sister, Angelina found herself attending Patricia’s boyfriend’s graduation. How ironic that he would graduate but Patty would not, she thought as she held her sister’s hand.
The boyfriend, Mark, was one of a set of twins. Michael, being older –by three minutes –found it odd that Mark was a better achiever. Where Mark was good, Michael was bad. Where Mark was smart, Michael was dumb. So, if Mark had a girlfriend, Michael did not. And Michael did not enjoy that fact at all. What Mark did not know however, Michael did. For instance, Michael knew that Patty had a tiny crush on him, however small and insignificant. After all, girls liked the bad boys they just didn’t bring them home to mama.
As the if-then formula goes, if Mark was graduating then Michael was not. This was an opportunity of the greatest for Michael. He decided that would give him a chance to steal away Patty. At the entrance, Patty gave Mark his congratulatory kiss. Angel heard her saying his congratulatory sex would come later. Angel wondered what sex really was other than two people rubbing bodies. Sex ed wouldn’t be until much later unfortunately. Mark’s class called him back. The traditional ceremony was to begin. Mark instructed Patty that Michael had her tickets and he’d help her find her seat, before running off to join his fellow graduating class of 1997.
When Mark finally disappeared behind the double doors, Michael appeared. Angel tilted her head, memorizing what made them different. Michael had a beauty mark on his left cheek. Mark had longer hair. Michael had shorter nails. Mark had smaller eyes. Michael was a lot thinner than Mark. A fact she’d later attribute to his problem with cocaine. Patty explained to Michael the situation. Michael smiled, handed Angel her ticket and whispered something to Patty. Patty turned to Angel and told her to save their seats. Inside the high school, Patty and Michael parted left and Angel was supposed to go right.
Being the good little sister she followed Patty and Michael. They were in a music room with very few desks. Angelina went around a second door and crawled behind the piano. She couldn’t hear what they said. She watched as Michael walked up to Patty and kissed her. Slowly at first as if trying her out, Patty was shy. But in the end her arms found themselves around his neck. Their kiss began to get fiercer. Angel knew what a French kiss was but she couldn’t really say that’s what they were doing. It seemed more inappropriate, more sexual than those she’d seen on TV.
Michael’s hands slithered around her sister’s body. Patty moaned in response. She pressed her body against him, letting her head fall back. He took this invitation and fed on her neck. Her shirt was peeled off in one movement. He kept his shirt on. Angel watched her sister gasp and moan, against his mouth. His tongue played with her nipples, his hand rubbing that part between her legs where girls peed from. Patty was thrown on to a desk. Michael removed her panties, Patty had worn a skirt –Angel figured for this purpose although Michael might not have been the intended audience.
Patty begged and moaned, until finally Michael pulled out his member from his pants. Angel’s eyes widened at the sight. Curiosity, more than anything, kept her watching, although every now and then a throbbing sensation came from down there. Angel watched as Michael slowly shoved it inside Patty. Patty seemed to approve. An awkward rocking-swaying motion began between the two. It began to get rougher, and harder until finally Michael grunted. His face pinched and his eyes rolled back. Patty smiled and shook. Angel wondered what made him stop so quickly.
He collapsed on top of her. He kissed the left breast, then the right, before removing himself and helping her dress. Patty’s legs trembled as she walked out, looking back only once to smile at Michael. Angel shook her head. Her sister was a slut. The unspoken rule was that you don’t date your boyfriend’s brother. An even better one was you don’t fuck around on your man. Angel was about to crawl out when the door burst open. She expected to see her sister but it was another guy. He held a silver gun in his hand.
“You stupid motha’fucker!” He yelled, he leveled the gun and aimed at Michael’s left eye.
Angel was confused, was he here to defend Mark?
“Ay man, what the fuck you doin? We’re in a fucking school.” Michael kept his hands up, his voice calm.
“You fucking take her away from me, fuck her and leave her!” He yelled, Angel saw the man’s face. She’d only ever seen one guy with that crazy look, it was usually her brother when she made him angry. “Ima kill you man! You’re a fuckin’ dead man!”
“Jose, you don’t want to do this.” Michael took a step toward him. Angel shook her head. Jose, trembled with fury.
“Don’t fuckin’ move, you motha’fucker! I want you to look at me. I wanna watch you die.” Jose’s face was full of sweat. Maybe it was that or the fact that he had come here with eyes only for Michael but Jose missed the three men behind him. Before he could fire off a shot he was jumped. Angel watched four men punch and kick and stab a man that had only tried to defend a woman he loved. Michael was the last to hurt him, breaking his knees with a bat provided by his crew.
“I did you a fuckin’ favor. That bitch was all loose.” Michael’s last words to Jose before he spat in his face and ran off.
Angel checked to see if they had left. She grabbed a cloth and wiped the knob. She’d seen the TV shows, DNA would be everywhere. Walking over slowly, she stood over Jose. His breathing was ragged. Blood began to stain the dull carpet. His face was already beginning to swell and bruise. He coughed up some blood and lifted his only good hand in plea. Angel’s eyes caught sight of the gun, it shined in the sun. Her mind was empty. Her heart pumped furiously. She knew how to help him. Sometimes mercy came in the most awful ways. She didn’t know how guns worked.
Angel weighed the gun in her hand. Imagining herself as a gangster, she aimed at Jose and fired. The first one, to his throat, was an accident. The rest of the shots were for fun. The gun clicked three more times before she realized it was empty. His dead body seemed fake to her. He didn’t look like they did in the movies. He wasn’t all pretty with a tongue sticking out of his mouth. She put the gun inside her backpack between her book and her pencil case.
Small drops of blood decorated her legs and face. Her clothes were dark enough to hide the marks on the cloth. Angel washed her face and legs and then her arms in cold water. There was movement outside in the hallway. She heard a woman scream. Why did it always have to be a woman, she thought. Angel watched herself in the mirror. She observed her soft bob of curls and her big green eyes. She hated her dark skin. All the girls had light skin. She had been the only one with such dark skin. Her navy tank top and brother’s black Dickie shorts made her look oddly thin.
Angel took out the gun from her pack and aimed it at her reflection; imagining herself as a spy or a cop or a gangster, before she heard the sirens and her sister calling for her. Patty hadn’t noticed her sister missing. She had went back on a cloud, remembering a certain kiss or touch; maybe how the future would be with him in it. She stood in the back listening to speeches meant to inspire. She cheered the loudest when her man went on stage, feeling only slightly guilty at the fact that she had slept with his brother. It wasn’t until the shots were heard and an urge to flee was interrupted by a sudden realization, she had not come alone.
Patty fought against the current of panic that tried to steer her to safety. Mark tried to find her and she tried to find Angel. There was a moment when Mark finally found Patty. He was relieved and happy. She was still frightened and overwhelmed. Mark didn’t understand how she could’ve lost Angel. Patty tried not to panic and cry but it seemed all she could do. What would her mother do if her sister turned up dead under her watch? Patty’s mind reeled. She suddenly felt sick. Maybe she could die too. A scream snapped her back into the real world.
Patty ran calling wildly for her sister. Mark’s words of reassurance weren’t heard, so he too decided to call for her sister. Angel placed the gun back in her pack and stood still, keeping eye contact with her reflection. She heard Mark instruct her to check the bathroom. She heard Patty’s scrambled walk entering and then the small sigh of relief.
“Angel! What are you doing here?” Patty asked, but began to sob instead of hearing a reply. She went to her sister and shook her, then hugged her. “We need to get out of here, okay?”
Angel only remained silent. With her eyes she told Patty everything she’d seen; her and Michael doing it, Jose pointing a gun at Michael, Michael and his boys beating a man so close to death that she was forced to kill him herself. But Patty didn’t hear any of it, she didn’t see it in Angel’s eyes because she was too busy looking away. Angel followed silently, using long strides to keep up with Mark and Patty. The police weren’t all the way there yet.
“Somebody shot Jose.” Mark whispered to Patty.
“How do you know?” Patty’s eyes were wide, Angel thought of her as a young child. That is what ignorance got you, the mind and look of a child, Angel reflected.
“I saw the body. He was in the music room. They beat him and shot him. They can’t even do an open casket. I think,” Mark paused not wanting to say the last words out loud, “I think Michael did it.”
Before Patty could reply, an officer of the law approached them.
“I need to ask you a couple of questions.” He looked tall and white to Angel. “Do you know what happened?”
Patty started to shake, her face was covered in tears. Mark wrapped a protective arm around her. Angel dared to look the officer in the face.
“No, we were at the graduation.” Mark offered. The less said the better, a lesson learned on the streets dealing with cops.
Officer nameless looked at the young couple up and down. He tried to assess if they were in shock or mourning the death of a friend or possibly both. He caught sight of the young girl standing close but far enough to the young couple. She didn’t flinch or adjust her line of vision when he made eye contact. Something about that unnerved him a little. Kids either smiled at cops or shied away, they didn’t stare him down challenging him. His attention went to the young man who had dared to answer him.
“I see. The ceremony was over there,” He pointed behind them. “You were coming from that way.” He pointed behind him. “And that’s where the crime scene is.”
“We went looking for my little sister. I was watching the ceremony, there were gun shots, and my little sister wasn’t around. I didn’t see anything.” Patty’s voice shook. She was being honest, she was hiding something but it had nothing to do with the crime scene, the officer decided. He nodded at her and turned to the little girl. Patty reached out her hand to Angel in a protective big sister way. Angel kept her distance from all three of them. The officer came down to her level. Angel located the points of exit.
“Hi there, what’s your name?” The officer smiled.
“Hi, I’m Angel.” Angel nodded her head. She tried to decide what would work best. It was too late to cry and act scared, besides Patty was using that card at the moment. She couldn’t shy away, she had already looked him square in the eye. She chose to remain detached. Angel had learned that adults reacted strangely when children didn’t show emotion.
“I’m Officer Johnson. I’m a cop. Do you know what cops do?” Officer Johnson, asked, he smiled but Angel thought he looked uncomfortable in his vest and that belt. She kept eyeing his badge. He was a real cop.
“You catch the bad guys.” Angel repeated the phrase as she had learned it in school during an assembly. She had been sitting in the middle row trying to act nonchalant but deep inside she was impressed that cops had attended her school.
“That’s right, we catch the bad guys.” Officer Johnson smiled. Angel smiled too, this was easy. “Now, in order to catch the bad guys we need your help.”
Angel’s smile faded. She was at full attention. Officer Johnson’s smile grew, yes children were easy. Angel’s eyes hinted at something but he couldn’t quite read them. Angel wanted him to ask that question, that one question that would get her the advantage over her sister. Angel nodded for him to continue.
“Where were you when your sister found you?” He asked, carefully.
“The bathroom.” Angel answered, strike one.
“Oh, why were you in there?” He pulled out his notepad slowly, strike two.
“I wanted to wash my face.” Angel bated him. She wanted him to pull the confession out slowly and painfully. She wanted to watch her sister’s shock and the officer’s eyes turn to concern at the realization of the truth.
“Why that bathroom? There’s another one close to the gym where your sister was at.” Patty and Mark both looked at Angel, slowly registering what she was saying.
“I wasn’t at the graduation. I had,” She stopped and looked at Patty. Patty blushed but kept quiet, waiting on her sister. But, no matter what, Angel was no snitch. “I had wandered off.”
“Oh, well, where did you go?” Officer Johnson asked, his voice full of soft fake sincerity.
“I was in the music room. I was playing with the piano, when –“ Angel stopped, keeping them in suspense. She could see the cop trying to keep his calm. She could sense her sister’s fear. She couldn't care less about Mark.
“Go ahead, sweetie.” The officer pleaded.
“Angel, tell him what you saw.” Patty snapped, suddenly angry. Angel looked up at her sister, reacting to her tone. Officer Johnson noticed and tried to regain focus before he lost his lead.
“Hey, you won’t be in trouble. We just want to know. It’s to catch the bad guys. You can tell me, remember? I’m a cop and we-?”
“Catch the bad guys?"
“That’s right. Now what happened when you were playing piano?”
“A guy came in and pointed a gun at –“ She stopped and eyed Mark this time. Mark felt hot and cold. He knew what she meant to say. In his mind he finished that sentence for her but he didn’t say anything out loud. “I don’t know. There were four guys beating up one guy and then there was a gun. Some shots. And they ran off.”
They watched her silently. She worried for the first few minutes if they already could tell she was lying. But then her sister started to cry again and the officer wrote down some things. Mark was the only one who kept looking at her, looking through her really. He was trying to play what she had said in his mind but he couldn’t picture his brother killing someone. But Angel was a child, children lied about silly things not about people killing people.
“Did I say something wrong?” Angel asked her voice as innocent and cute as the child she should be.
“No, of course not. We will have to ask you more questions. Will that be okay? We’ll need to call your parents.” Officer Johnson stood up. Angel started to cry at once.
“You said I wouldn’t get in trouble! And I told you and now you’re gonna call my parents!” Angel wailed.
Officer Johnson tried to console her with out touching her. Before he could say anything, Angel turned and ran back to the music room. With such a small and agile body she was able to reach it and settle behind the piano before the officer and Patty caught up. The body was covered. The room full of strangers stopped and watched the child. A woman with hair scooped in a pony tail approached her.
“Hey, there.” She said in her softest voice. Angel shook her head and hugged her knees.
“It’s okay,” Officer Johnson appeared behind the woman with the nice hair. “We need to call your parents to ask them if we can ask you questions. Not to get you in trouble.”
“I’ll answer your questions if you don’t call my parents. I don’t want to get in trouble.” In her home, you never talked to cops. You didn’t provide leads, you kept your mouth shut, you didn’t see anything, hear anything, but most importantly you didn’t say shit! Her plan had a flaw, she was a child. So of course her family would need to be informed. She saw the cop struggling to calm her down. Patty ran in and tried to approach her.
Angel used her last play and hugged the officer. From all the dramatic play practice she had getting her brother in trouble, Angel knew how to shake willingly. She knew how to get the adult sympathy. Something ugly girls with hidden beauty kept up their sleeves. Officer Johnson was alarmed but as all adults with children he held the trembling child. Reaching his large arms around her and her back pack, it must’ve been instinct that told him to check the bag. So very slowly he removed the child from his hold.
“How about I make you a deal? I won’t call your parents if you open your back pack for me.” He said. Angel looked around. All eyes on her, all the attention in the world but suddenly it was all too exhausting. It was too easy to fool them.
“I know you’re lying but I’ll open it anyway. But as a cop you should know that you maintain the truth in justice.” Angel allowed them to see her how she truly was for a brief moment. Officer Johnson was surprised at her level of speech. Kids her age didn’t have much respect for grammar, let alone scolding officers. Again something about her upset him but he let it go.
Angel unzipped her pack and held it out for all eyes to see. After her sister gasped, and Mark’s face went pale, a flurry of movements and motions took Angel by surprise. Gloved hands removed the gun, too quickly for Angel to register the face. Strong hands carried her away. The cop stayed to talk with her sister. Angel was taken to a patrol car and allowed to play with the siren. They were distracting her. She saw a nice shiny car pull up. It was either the FBI or someone a lot more important than these cops, from what she understood on TV.
The woman who climbed out was a black female with greased up hair and a nice body. She was skinny but she was black so Angel naturally didn’t like her. Angel had been taught by actions that light skinned girls were more beautiful than dark skinned ones. As a result she disliked her tone and anyone darker than her. And this woman was darker. Angel sat back and put on her best serious face.
She watched the woman talk with Officer Johnson before approaching her. Angel held the door closed but the woman was smarter and she walked around to the driver door. She leaned down and smiled. Angel looked around for Patty or Mark. The woman tried to look sympathetic but Angel knew better.
“I want my sister.” Angel answered to the question behind those chocolate eyes.
“She’ll be with you shortly. My name is Tequita Davis. I am with the department of child services. Do you know what we do?” Tequita sat down slowly.
“You take kids away from their families. Sometimes it’s for good reason sometimes it’s not. I want my sister and I’d like to stay with my family. I know you have questions and I know Officer Johnson wants answers. But I want my sister and I’d like to keep my family out of this. Since I am not an adult I will still need my parent slash guardian but I don’t want them to be involved.” Angel spoke clearly, hoping Tequita wouldn’t be able to see how nervous she really was.
Tequita listened carefully. This child was smart. She wasn’t just book smart, she was smart enough to fool an entire room of adults that she was just a child. Yet, she had to reveal herself to protect her family. Tequita felt respect for the girl and compared this child to a younger Tequita who would’ve done the same. And maybe it was that or the fact that the child was willing to cooperate with out a big scene that made her nod.
“Okay, we’ve called your mother. You’re sister is giving her statement. We’ll have to take you to a building close by and have you answer some questions there. After that your mom will have to sign some papers and you’ll be all done.” Tequita didn't think to mention any more. She smiled at Angel, hoping that would be enough. But just like Officer Johnson, something about the way Angel kept eye contact made Tequita nervous.
“You’re lying too. Just remember, I’m still learning from my elders. You keep things from me for your advantage and I will learn to do the same.” Angel opened the car door and ran to her sister, leaving Tequita shocked. Had she misjudged the girl? Was that a threat? No, the child had offered her the truth and she had lied in return. Tequita sighed, the guilt a child could bring.
Back at headquarters, Angel thought to herself smiling; she sat in a grey room with her mother. Angel’s mother was a short plump woman with a stern face, a natural perm, and an attitude of stereotypical proportions. She was nervous but like Angel she sat still with no emotion. Both were completely numb to the situation, their eyes watching the door. Finally, a man in a brown suit entered. Angel was entranced with the crafty stitching on his tie. He placed manila folders on the table, straightened his tie, pulled out his pen with his right hand, flattened his tie with his left, clicked the pen, cleared his throat and looked up with a smile.
“Senora,” Ma’am, Angel stopped listening and looked at her mom. They went back and forth. Her mother was strict and stern but quick with her replies. Angel sighed, she knew they would think her mom was just one of those women protecting her child. If they only knew that her mom was annoyed at having to have missed work. She’d hear about this later, she was sure. Finally the man turned to Angel.
“Okay, Angel. Can you tell me what happened?” He asked with no smile or intent to be friends. Angel shied away in response. He would have to play by her rules and her rules said smile. Before he could reply, Angel’s mom nudged her.
“Contestale!” Answer him. Her mother's eyes widened in warning, Angel straightened and turned to the man. She could see the smug look of victory in his smile. Angel paused.
“I saw four men hitting one guy.” Angel looked down at the table. Her mother crossed her arms.
“How did you get the gun?” The man, what was his name, was starting to annoy Angel.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged.
“Como que no sabes?” what do you mean you don’t know, one of the few English phrases her mother did know.
“Amaaa,” Angel whined. Angel sighed again. “Does she have to be in here while I answer?”
“What’s wrong? Are you worried she might catch you in a lie?” Tony! That was how he had introduced himself. Antonio Pirata. Anthony the pirate. Angel’s eyes turned to slits. He had obviously been speaking to Officer Johnson and Ms. Tequita. He knew she was hiding something.
“No, it’s just embarrassing what I have to say. Can’t she stand behind the mirror like Ms. Taco and Officer John?” She purposefully messed up their names.
“You mean Ms. Tequita and Officer Johnson?” He smiled. She hated these people and their smiles, they were –what was the word –condescending.
“Yes, them.” Angel smiled too.
Tony paused, he realized that now that she knew what he knew she had more cards than him. He was trying to get more than what had been given to Officer Johnson. From what Tequita had told him she was smarter than she let on. An observation confirmed by Johnson and later by their encounter. This was ridiculous, she was a kid. He shook his head and signaled for Tequita to come get Angel’s mother. Angel welcomed the interruption. She reassured her mom she would be fine. After the door closed behind her mother, Angel’s entire posture changed. Tony kept his guard up but something told him that was what she wanted.
“So, you’re mother is out of the room. Now, go ahead and tell me what happened.” Tony tipped the pen onto the paper and waited. Angel swung her feet.
“I went with my sister to the graduation. But she didn’t go to the graduation she went to go have sex with a guy in the music room.” Angel clicked her tongue. Tony was caught off guard with that one.
“I –what did –um. Go on.” Tony shook his head. Angel kept her face down.
“Then my sister left. I was gonna leave too but this guy, Jose comes in.” Angel tried to think of sad things so that she could cry. But as always she felt numb and empty. She looked up. “And I killed him.”
“What?” Tony looked up.
“I just watched as they beat him and stabbed him. I should’ve done something. I couldn’t. I killed him.” Angel’s eye managed one lone tear. Tequita burst in and hugged the child.
“Nonsense, darling, you’re just a kid.” Tequita hugged her. She smelled like baby oil and that hair grease black people used.
“I saw who it was. I only know one of the guys. The one who slept with my sister.” Angel was so excited she could barely keep a straight face. Yet, before she could send Michael away to jail, Officer Johnson walked in.
“What now?” Tony stood up.
“We have a confession; we need her to identify him.” Johnson said. Tony went over to Angel’s mom to explain. Angel was held close by her mother. Patty lingered somewhere nearby. Angel was accompanied by her mother and Officer Johnson into a dark room. Angel looked out the mirror, in a small room sat Mark. Her eyes widened in shock.
“He said he did it?” Angel asked Johnson, forgetting herself.
“Is he the one you saw?” Johnson countered. Angel nodded slowly.
After hours and hours or just forty-five infinite minutes, Angel was on her way home. They gave her mother a number to a child psychologist for the “guilt and shock” Angel must be feeling after having witnessed a murder. Her mother accepted the card but didn’t appreciate that they thought her child crazy.