The Minstrel

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Carmen Sanchez arrived at Jonathan Pfeifer’s office at exactly one o’clock. More precisely, she arrived at Russell Frawley’s office at exactly one o’clock. Apprehension filled her as she noted the sign, and she wondered if she was doing the right thing, coming to the office of the lawyer who’d spent his life defending the family that was willing to put her cousin in prison. She almost turned away, thinking she should go to the lawyer that lived in her tenement, when the door opened before her.

“Ms. Sanchez?” the familiar blonde figure beckoned her. This was the office that wanted to persecute Raul, this was the man who saved Raul. Carmen stood at the doorstep for a moment, flustered. “Ms. Sanchez? Are you all right?” Jonathan Pfeifer asked.

Carmen recomposed herself, snapping back into the present. “Oh, yes. I’m fine,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “My mind wanders, you know. Happens a lot when you get older.”

Jonathan sized her up in one glance. A conservative, serious, no-nonsense woman. The look in her eyes seemed to say, I have fought hard and labored long for what I have, and you will have to kill m to take it away or tear me down. The lines around her eyes were wise. They told a story of much toil, but her eyes themselves glowed with the knowledge that the toil had been fruitful. Having a chance to finally look her in the eyes, Jonathan found himself bestowing her instant respect. He offered a small smile to her juncture, somehow sensing that the genial comeback of how she was as ravishing a young woman would be taken with suspicion to ears wizened to years of superficiality and phoniness. She returned his gesture and followed his beckon to his small enclave of an office.

“Sorry for the mess,” Jonathan grinned sheepishly as he swatted away at the mess of papers on his desk. Even with all his cleaning the desk for two hours, he still hadn’t managed to fully clear the rubble from his workplace. Carmen smiled. “Could I get you something to drink? Coffee, soda?” “No, thank you, I’m fine,” Carmen clipped, adding a smile to her statement. “Where is Mr. Frawley? Is he working today?”

The question took Jonathan off guard. ” No, not today,” he managed. “Do you know him?”

“I know of him,” came the quick answer. “Mr. Pfeifer”

“Please call me Jonathan.”

“Jonathan.” She smiled again, sighing. “It’s been a rough couple of days. Very Busy.”

“You’ve been working a lot of shifts?”

“Perhaps that is it. They’ve been busier than usual. My husband is sick also, you know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Ah, he’s fine. Just incapacitated for life. He worked too hard and his heat didn’t like it. He needed a diet too.”

Jonathan noticed that with the exception of the occasional hand gesture here and there, Carmen seemed unusually subdued for what he’d seen of most Latinas. She seemed almost, well, white. He hated making a judgmental observation like that but he found a part of himself couldn’t help it. It was so hard to escape prejudice totally. It could be so elusive, such an easy trap to fall into. He smiled his best, most professional smile when the phone rang. He couldn’t help but be annoyed. All day, nothing happening and now that he was busy, the phone decided to ring. Drought or deluge. “Hello?” he barked into the phone, a little embarrassed in front of Carmen for his lack of professionalism. He thought he saw her stiffen a little.

“Oh, hi Jonathan, it’s me.” This time it was Ashley. Her tone was less than friendly. Now what, he thought with annoyance. Carmen shifted in her seat.

“Hi Ashley. Listen, could I call you back? I’m with someone right now.”

Jonathan thought he heard a snort. “Yeah? Like who? You’re not even a real lawyer. You’re a phony.”

She was drunk. Shit. And Raven would be home in two hours, home with a slobbering drunk who spoke her inner instincts when inebriated. That is, of course, she even was home— damn, this hadn’t happened in a long time. He felt his hands go clammy on the phone from apprehension.

“Ashley, I’m going now. I’m not speaking to you when you’re like this. And please don’t call me again until everything’s normal.” He refrained from using the words “until you’re sober” in front of his client. He was mortified enough by the blunt interruption.

“Until what? Hah! You’ll never—”

Jonathan didn’t listen to the rest. He slammed the phone down and rested it so it was just not quite hung up the proper way. He exhaled his tension away. Right now, Ashley was busy hitting redial. It would probably be a matter of time before she came down here. He remembered the shit with Joan Frawley only weeks before. At least she’d had a good reason the have the shit fit she did. Ashley would just be pissed that he was alive. Christ, why now, after all this time

“Is everything okay?” Carmen asked with a cocked eyebrow. Jonathan nodded emphatically. She just sat for a moment. The phone began its noisy insistence to be laid to rest in the proper manner. “Your phone is off the hook,” she nodded to the phone.

“Yes, I know,” Jonathan bristled, a little annoyed at the implicit revelations being made about his life to this stranger. He felt exposed, incompetent to deal with this person professionally now. Just as he was ready to ask her to leave, she spoke.

“I felt I needed to speak to a professional in case someone needed protection. Legal protection.”

Jonathan nodded, not fully restored in his composure yet. She continued.

“The man who helped on the street? The one you brought into the hospital. He might be a cousin of my husband’s,” she said.

Jonathan sat straight, Ashley forgotten, hearing this. “Who is your cousin?”

“His name is Raul Valesquez. He’s been missing for fourteen years, ever since he was shot and his wife and daughter were killed. His wife was my best friend.” She spoke sharply and succinctly.

“My God,” was all he could manage.

“He was in the same hospital when he was shot fourteen years ago. As far as I recall, the same bed too. I had a suspicion it was he when he yelled at me that day about his wife and daughter. He wanted to know the same thing fourteen years ago. He didn’t know they were dead. I think he still doesn’t know.”

Jonathan sat silently, his eyes wandering to Raven’s picture. For a brief moment, he imagined what it would have been if he lost Raven to some maniac. He would kill the bastard. Just the thought of it filed him with rage.

Carmen followed his gaze. She was looking at the picture, too. “Is that your daughter?” she asked.

Jonathan nodded.

“She’s beautiful. How old?”


Carmen looked at the picture. “Raulita was beautiful like that. Just like her mother.”

“Do you have any pictures?”

Carmen regarded him for a second before nodding and searching through her pocketbook to produce a small picturebook. She flipped it to the beginning stages. So much time must have disappeared along with her friends, Jonathan thought, as he followed he finger to where she was pointing.

“This is their family,” she introduced, “just before Lupe died in 1978. It’s the most recent picture I have of them.”

Jonathan took the photograph from her outstretched hands and regarded it carefully. A man, woman and child, all hugging one another, snapped in a smile that had been frozen in mid-laughter. He looked at the faces of each and stopped at each one. The child, whose laughing face had been erased from the planet forever, the wife that was no longer there to love. Though he knew none of them, he felt a deep pit of loss. Death had stolen joy. He felt hollow and meaningless.

His final gaze stopped on the man. And for a moment he froze as the vague recognition took him. He had seen the face in a different timethe square jaw, delicate nose, dark, piercing back eyes that paradoxically were filled with laughter and compassion. A complexity of appearance, but a simplicity of love. Yes, he had seen this man once before.

“He used to write songs all the time. For the church,” Carmen said nostalgically, seemingly looking right through the picture. “They were beautiful tunes. Folk music. And he had a voice like I’ve never heard before. It was clear and beautiful. When he sang, it was like he could take you to another world.” She stopped. Jonathan found that as she spoke, he could not meet her gaze directly. The revelations were too personal, and the affected him as though they were his own memories.

“He did good work, you know. He helped gangsters to get off the streets. Had meetings in his apartment, well, our apartment. We lived with him and Lupe while Carlos was out of work. My husband.” She added as way of explanation. “All kinds of boys came to these meetings. He encouraged them to go to school and get an education. Raul had a degree, too. From junior college. So did Lupe. I was so proud of them. They were people to look up to. I envied them. How they struggled to get that education, but they did. I married too young. I was pregnant. I had to wait for my family to grow up before I could take my chance. But I started school when theythey” she almost choked on the words “went to God. They gave me hope for a new beginning.

“They loved God. All the time, they spoke of the goodness of God. When Raul sang songs, he always sang giving thanks to this loving God of his. It drew me in. His religion was contagious. It made people want to be with him and to have what he had. The gangster kids, they all flocked to him. His happiness gave them hope. Laughing, he was always laughing. The people on the streets would look up at his window to see what was going on there was so much laughter. Some of the young boys who came to him to end their life on the streets just because they heard it.”

, Abdullah Patrick did not know if the father of her unborn child would come home alive. Emmanuel never could quite get away from his drugs, easy money. So we convinvced her to leave him. He swallowed and paused. Her fingers began to twiddle in their neatly folded stance, she began to tap her foot. Jonathan instinctively realized that she had reached the part of the story where the violence to her loved ones occurred. He wasn’t quite sure if he should let her finish the story or fill it in for her. He offered her a glass of water instead, which she readily accepted.

“I got a phone call, two weeks later or so. That’s how I found out what happened to them. Raulita died so violently. And they did nothing to deserve that. I remember Raul lying in the same bed as the transient you and I know had. There had been so many bandages. He had only done good for others. He loved everyone, great and small, just as the Lord told him to. Nothing but love in his heart. I would look at his form, lying there, and ask, who could do such a thing? Who was this God that allowed this to happen? I hated God much at that time. I would curse him at night when I used to say my prayers. In the end I ran back to him because there was nobody else who could take my pain.

“I had to go to another funeral not so long afterwards. Abdullah Patrick was killed. I was in such shock from Lupe and Raulita I didn’t have the strength to be angry at her death. She had been run over by a car. All I could ask was what could she have possibly done to deserve a death so young. She was only twenty-four. But I asked no more. The violence made me sick. I would go home, grateful to have the minuscule problems of a boozing husband who like his horses and women. He never hit me. And I knew no one was after his life, that my life was safe as well. And soon after, my husband reformed even these simple problems and became a model father and husband. I could have not asked for anything more, other than to have my best friend and my goddaughter alive today.”

She stopped again. The door creaked. Jonathan instantly went to it, thinking that Frawley had entered and was eavesdropping. It was just Beatrix Potter, the cat that had been recently presented as a gift to Jonathan by a homeless family he helped place in temporary housing. The agent he dealt with had told Jonathan the he was in the wrong profession; he said with a soft hear like his, he’d survive better as a social worker than a lawyer. Jonathan wondered if he was right.

“My nephew is a good man. He would never lie, you know.”

Jonathan was startled by the abrupt change in conversation before he realized that Carmen was almost thinking aloud to herself. He frowned, listening more intently to what she was staying. He found himself becoming tense and nervous.

“Hector always was an achiever, did well in school. Very religious. Very respectful of the Lord. Already he is an elder of a Pentecostal church. He couldn’t be any older than you.” She gave Jonathan a piercing look that made him somewhat embarrassed at his disheveled office and transient position. He always felt too unsettled for his age. Anything could set him off. He squirmed slightly. Carmen seemed unaware of his discomfort as she turned her eyes from him. “Hector would have never spread rumors. He always was a truthful boy.”

Jonathan looked suddenly at her, realizing that this Hector had revealed something that was vitally important to everyone involved. He wanted more than anything to have Carmen Sanchez dump it all right in front of him right there and then, yet there was another part, the compassionate, curious part that heard pain from a part of the world he’d only seen half-truths of in the movies, where gun play was a form of Hollywood entertainment and nothing more. Carmen Sanchez was telling him it was real, darker and drier simultaneously than Wesley Snipes and Omar Epps could ever demonstrate. He sat there, realizing that, even with all his wanderings and adventures, even with the pain of losing Jenny and possibly Ashley, even with the isolated, empty thought of becoming a single father in an environment that likened motherhood to sainthood and fatherhood a joke of an institution, even with all this, he realized that he, Joseph Pfeifer, had lived a protected, privileged, and even sheltered life.

“Emmanuel Jackson were drug dealer. Mostly, they sold heroin and LSD. Psychedelics were their staple, especially the late seventies. Marijuana too. But then came cocaine. Obviously, it had always been around. But it was starting to become stylish and chic. It was like having a Porsche in the backyard. There was almost a whole new market for it in the inner cities. They wanted to seem rich. So the dealers pounced all over them for opportunities.

“Emmanuel went to eliminate the problem. Hector says he was high on drugs. Hector say he told the elders thatthat”

Her voice shook before it stopped dead in her tracks, and Jonathan found his blood go cold. He went to lay a reassuring hand on Carmen’s, but she quietly raised her other hand in resistance, seeming to want to go on with her story, only with the help and courage that she could summon through the Lord.

“Pastor Williams revealed a confession of Emmanuel Jackson’s just before Emmanuel was assaulted. That Emmanuel admitted to killing a young girl and her mother before he was incarcerated for armed robbery. He had said he was afraid because he saw someone like the man he thought he killed walking around. He was afraid he’d come for revenge. The man who accosted him was the transient who resembles my cousin.”

Then she was silent. She looked at Jonathan, as though waiting for a response. Though deeply moved, Jonathan put his best professional neutral face on. “What would you like me to do for you, Ms. Sanchez?”

“Hector says that Pastor Williams believes that Emmanuel Jackson’s attack was done by Raul seeking revenge for what was done to his family. He will go to the police with this information. With Mark Timothy Haines dead and the white community against Raul, all he needs is the black community to be against him, which they will if this information gets out. Raul won’t need a trial to be guilty then.”

“How can you be certain that this transient is your cousin?”

Carmen smiled and sat forward, her hands folded under a lips. She looked briefly at Jonathan before looking thoughtfully down at her fingers. “I know it is him, because of what he sings. The songs that I hear from his mouth are those that Raul used to sing. He wrote his own music, you know. He was very talented. All the songs I hear only could have been written by Raul. Beauty like that could only have come from him. Because of his music, I know he is Raul.”

Jonathan folded his hands carefully. “Why do you think it took so long for him to come back?”

Carmen shook her head, bewildered in expression. “I don’t know. Maybe he got lost, and now he’s found his way home.”

“His search is over, maybe.”

Carmen looked at him. “Or maybe, soon it will be.”

They were both silent for awhile. One was trying to save a stranger whose name he’d just discovered, the other trying to save a friend of her childhood, both deeply affected by the distant presence of the same man. The doomed search of his lost wife and child were what seemingly drove him. Carmen thought of how outside of that search, there was little else for him. He could not recognize her, and wondered if he would remember her if she revealed herself to him. He had been a god to her once. Now, worshipping the true God above, she no longer regarded him as divine, but at his survival and strength and spirit after all he had suffered, she had the utmost respect for him.

“I just wanted to make sure there was a record of this. Emmanuel Jackson is like a son to Casper Williams. For all I know, he will go to the police and say that Emmanuel never even harmed Raul and that he was struck down in cold blood. I can’t imagine him even admitting that his beloved protÉgÉ was a filthy murderer. The way Hector sees it, Emmanuel can do no wrong in Reverend Williams’ eyes.”

“But the information could be inadmissible. He said it in the confidence of the clergy.”

“That is only for Catholics, correct?

Jonathan shook his head. The swarm of his second-year law school knowledge swam in his head. “I’ll have to look it up to be sure. Will your cousin testify if it goes to trial?”

Carmen stiffened visibly. “Do you think it will go that far?”

“I don’t see what other route in can take,” Jonathan halfheartedly admitted. “There is no other suspect in the case right now.”

“Perhaps. Yes, he will.” The information flustered her significantly. Jonathan switched tracks artfully.

“. At that time, they were holding them in my home. Lupe Valesquez had become too ill to have so much company in her home.”

“What was she sick with?”

“Heartbreak. She lost a child several years earlier. She was never the same after that.”

Jonathan breathed heavily. A story made more complicated than its cover. At first, this had just looked like a series of unsolved murders, with the dice being tossed about the killer, depending on the race and other meaningless factors. Now, it was almost looking like a sinister setup.

“Jesus Himself said that the darkness hates the light. Darkness will do anything to snuff the light out.”

But it had not been extinguished quite yet.

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