From the Bottom of My Heart
15 year old Monica Styles was sitting patiently in Althea Tibbs' office waiting to find out why she had been summoned there. She couldn't be in trouble as she was still holding down a straight A average. Mrs. Tibbs did pay special attention to her working students, but Monica's part time clerking position for DA Darnelle had been arranged by Mrs. Tibbs' herself. So the only thing Monica could do was to sit and wait for Mrs. Tibbs to come and tell her what in the world was going on.
While Monica waited, several people, students and teachers alike, would slow down to stare at her through the window. Monica was used to that. The students always stared at her because they were afraid of her intelligence...and she because she was from the Bottoms. The teachers stared at her because for someone so smart, Monica actually spoke very little...and because she was from the Bottoms. They all stared because she was absolutely beautiful.
Monica had thick, shoulder length black hair and perfect mahogany brown skin. She didn't wear make-up, so her skin was flawless, and because she walked everywhere she went, she was in perfect shape. Pretty as she was, Monica didn't date, a conscious decision she made to keep herself out of trouble. And she spent more time reading literature and listening to classical music than she did trying to fit in with her peer group.
Monica was definitely completely displaced, especially for Sparta Mississippi. She knew it, so she basically kept to herself. The staff and students knew it, so they were content to leave her alone as well, except for Mrs. Tibbs. Just when Monica decided to start reading from her D.H. Lawerence collection, Mrs. Tibbs rushed into the office.
"Monica, I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting. Have you been here long?"
"No, ma'am. Only a few minutes. Is everything okay?"
Althea Tibbs smiled and said, "Yes, everything's fine. I actually just wanted to touch base with you on your emancipation case. It looks like everything is in order and ready to go. The judge has asked for one more reference, though."
Monica eyed Mrs. Tibbs very closely. She liked the lady, but Mrs. Tibbs had a way of speaking in circles that drove Monica nuts. Normally, Monica would play stupid just to see what Mrs. Tibbs would do, but this didn't seem the right time to entertain herself. Instead, she said, "And I assume that person would be you, correct?"
Althea had spoken privately with Monica on several occasions. But it never seemed to fail that Monica's maturity and insight would always catch her off guard.
"Yes," she said nervously. "That person is me. Listen, I know that you've been taking care of yourself for a while. You pay your own bills, and have done well in school. But that has always been under the protection of being a minor. Once these papers are signed, you will be a legal adult. I just want to make sure that you understand that."
Monica waited a moment before she spoke. She wanted to ask Mrs. Tibbs to kindly explain just what protection she had been under. She also wanted to point out that if she had truly been protected, it wouldn't have taken Newman County two years to realize that her mother had taken off with her last "uncle", and that she had been playing piano at a jazz club at night for money. A great source of income until Mrs. Tibbs and her five-0 husband came to the club one night and decided to put an end to her moonlighting there. They're the reason she had to file for emancipation to begin with. But Monica didn't say any of those things. She needed Mrs. Tibbs to sign those papers in order for her to move on to plan number two.
"I realize that, Mrs. Tibbs. And I've given it a great deal of thought. I really appreciate you getting me the part time job with Mr. Darnelle. But I need more than 12 hours a week to keep the house payment up. I've got some money saved from when I was working at the club, but since I'm not allowed to work there anymore 'thanks to you', she thought, and my savings are going fast. Mr. Darnelle can't give me more hours as long as I'm a minor and still in school."
"And your grades, Monica? Will you be able to keep your average up?"
Monica smiled slyly at Mrs. Tibbs and responded, "I'm a genius, Mrs. Tibbs, in case you've forgotten. Remember our IQ tests? Besides, if I can maintain A's while playing Ray Charles at night, I'm sure I can keep them up while prosecuting Ray Criminal during the day !"
At that, Mrs. Tibbs had to laugh. And Monica was right. If anyone could do this, it was Monica Styles.
"Well, congratulations! By this time tomorrow, you will officially be an adult!"
A few days after Monica's conversation with Althea Tibbs, another Tibbs by the name of Virgil was having a conversation with Lt. Lonnie Jamison, Capt. Bubba Skinner, and Sgt. Willson Sweet.
"Okay, guys. Any ideas on how to address these break-ins in the Bottoms?"
Bubba spoke up first. "Virgil, I gotta tell you. This just don't make no sense. Why would anybody break into anything in the Bottoms? Most those people ain't got much of nothing to steal and they 'sho ain't got no money to speak of."
"I'm with Bubba on this one, Detective. Why would anybody go burglarizing in the Bottoms?" Sweet asked.
Lt. Jamison spoke last, which was usual for him. "I'd say that they wouldn't. Unless they were looking for something in particular."
Virgil tried not to smile openly. He'd told Chief Gillespie time and time again that Jamison, not Skinner, would end up with his job as Chief Detective one day. And everyday, Jamison proved him right. He'd have to fill Bill in on Jamison's performance on this case when he got back from the Police Chief conference in New Orleans.
"I think you're on to something, Lonnie. Why don't you and Sweet see if our old buddy down there can tell us anything? Bubba, I'll need you to go with me to the hospital and see if the last victim is able to answer any questions yet."
Jamison and Sweet headed out of the police station and to Sweet's car. Since they were going down to the Bottoms to find their "snitch", Jimmy Dawes, neither of them was in uniform. They parked the car behind one of the many abandoned buildings and started to look for Jimmy. As they came up Peach Blossom Rd., Sweet saw an old friend of his.
"Hey, girl! Shouldn't you be in school right now?"
The girl that was walking in front of them stopped suddenly and turned around to face Sweet. Jamison thought they were about to get shot judging by the look on her face, but her eyes softened, a little, when she saw Sweet.
"No, sir, I should not," she responded with a smile. "But I'm quite sure YOU are supposed to be at work."
"I am working, Miss Styles! So watch yourself! But, seriously, why aren't you at school dazzling everyone with your Super Intelligence?"
"Well, I've got a little deal with my Honors History teacher. I do all my reading and assignments at home and turn them in on their due dates. I only have to come to class for exams and tests."
Sweet raised an eyebrow. "Okay. But where's the deal for the History teacher?"
"If I'm not in the classroom, then the other students don't realize that he's an idiot."
At that, Jamsion laughed out loud. Monica had forgotten he was there. Just as quickly as she had let her guard down to speak to Sweet, Jamison felt it go right back up when she remembered that a third party was present. Sweet sensed it as well and quickly made the introductions.
"Uh, Monica Styles, this here is Lt. Lonnie Jamison. He works with me at the station. AND he's a good friend of mine."
Monica supposed Sweet was trying to make her feel comfortable. It didn't work. This Jamison guy was HIS friend, not hers. Besides, she and Sweet may both be black, but she was Bottoms black. And that had always made a difference in Sparta, especially with white Sparta PD.
"Hi," she said, very coolly.
She stared at Jamison, hard, for what felt like forever to the guys. Normally, it put people off and helped Monica regain control in uncomfortable situations. It didn't work this time. Jamison just stared right back at her, equally as hard, without blinking an eye. Monica spoke first, refusing to let a white cop win a battle of will on her turf.
"It was nice seeing you again, Sweet. Be careful down here. You know how we people on this side of town can get." She rolled her eyes at Lonnie and left.
"What a cutie." Jamison said sarcastically. "You sure know how to pick 'em, Sweet."
"She's a sweet, girl, J. She's just been through a lot, especially since her mama left her to fend for herself. And what do you mean, 'I know how to pick 'em'?"
"Come on, Sweet. You mean to say that the only reason you know that girl is from undercover work? Is she a current girlfriend or an ex?"
"Me? HER? Jamison, are you crazy?"
"What? She's pretty, for a witch in training that is."
"No," Sweet laughed. "She's a prison sentence."
Jamison stopped walking and stared at Sweet. "Man, what are you talking about? She's in college, right?"
At that, Sweet roared with laughter. "In another three years! Monica Styles is 15 years old and goes to Sparta High. Come on. Let's split up and try to find Jimmy before you get me arrested."
While Jamison was finding out that he had just been cut down by a 15 year old kid, Monica was making her daily stroll through the Bottoms. As she passed by all of the broken down homes, crack houses, and two dollar whores, a slow and yet familiar hate began to swell up inside of her. She hated this place. She hated the way it looked, the way it smelled, and the way it felt. She hated hearing the way the drug pushers would talk to each other, using the word "nigger" as if it was a term of endearment. She hated seeing former female school mates who were now turning tricks to support their babies. It always reminded her that she was no better than their bastard children and that her mother was no better then they were…just luckier. She hated the way everyone who lived here rolled their eyes at her and whispered to each other when she walked by, as if they just couldn't wait for her to mess up and finally prove that she was just like them. They never spoke to her directly, even though they were all black and from the same place. Academic intelligence wasn't a high dollar item in the Bottoms. As Monica finally neared the broken down fence that surrounded her house, she realized that she was no more at home in the Bottoms than she was at school or at work.
Before Monica walked into her own yard, she stopped by a small shack about three doors down. And sure enough, her little buddy was sitting outside on an upside down crate.
"Hey, Shorty." Monica said to the little girl who couldn't have been more than 8 years old.
"I 'don told you not to call me that!" The child responded.
"Okay……TRINA. Did you go to school today?"
"Yes. And you can ask Uncle JD. He seen me walking there this morning." Trina was referring to Jimmy Dawes. The word in the Bottoms was that Trina's mom was a crack whore, and bought marijuana from Jimmy when she was between hits.
"Well?" Monica asked.
Trina reached into book bag and pulled out her spelling test. She had made a B. She handed it Monica, smiled, and then held out her tiny hand.
"What?" Monica said. "Oh, I guess I'm supposed to give you something, huh?"
Monica reached into her pocket and handed the little girl $10. "Now, what's the deal?"
Trina rolled her eyes, put her hands on her little hips and said, "$2 for school, $2 for crap, and $6 to stash in case Mama's trippin' out and I need food or something."
Monica gave Trina a quick little wink, and walked back up the street. It wasn't exactly an 'Althea Tibbs' moment, but sometimes a sister's got to work with what she knows!
Monica took out her key and opened the front door of her house. Her mother was one of the few people in the Bottoms who actually owned her home. Not that it was worth too much, but it was hers. It was also one of the larger homes down there. She had three bedrooms, a good size kitchen and even a small backyard. For the Bottoms, it wasn't half bad.
She walked into her bedroom, slid her bed over to the right and lifted a panel from the wood floor. She reached in and pulled out a small steel box. Inside was a brown envelope with her cash. She emptied the money on the bed and counted it. $2500, everything she had managed to save over the past 5 years. Some of the money came from gifts from her many "uncles" her mother used to bring home, most of it had come from the various night jobs she had over the past two years since her mother left with her last boyfriend. Keeping the money under the bed was the best she could do at the moment. Besides, she figured everyone would assume she was too smart to do such a thing, so it was safe. Also, she couldn't open a bank account by herself while she was minor.
"Just one more night under here before Mama finds you a new home." Monica said to the envelope before she placed everything back in its place.
She then sat down at her kitchen table and opened a small journal. In it she kept notes on what she referred to as her escape plan. Line item one had been taken care of. She would be a legal adult tomorrow. She placed a check mark beside of it. Line item two was to get more work hours out of Darnelle. Line item three was easy, keep her grades high, graduate with honors, and get the hell out here.
"Well, I'd better get dressed and start moving with number two. Darnelle is a pain when I'm late."
Lonnie and Willson returned to headquarters to advise Virgil of their conversation with Jimmy. They found him waiting with Luann Corbin.
"According to Jimmy, there are a couple of families living in the Bottoms that actually own their own places." Sweet said.
Virgil nodded knowingly, while Luann looked shocked. "Wait a minute. I always thought all of those places were owned by a handful of rich white families and rented out."
"For the most part," Jamison said. "But the owners are spread out throughout the Bottoms. What I mean to say is that a white family may own an entire street, except for maybe one or two places."
Suddenly Virgil saw where Jamison was headed. "And you're thinking that maybe some of these white owners want the other properties, and is trying to scare the owners?"
"Just a thought."
"Okay, Jamison. When you come in tomorrow, I want you to head over to the county clerk's office and see what you can find on all of the addresses where there were break-ins. I bet every one of them is an owner. Sweet and I will check surrounding addresses."
"I'll get right on it."
The next day, Lonnie left his house and headed straight to the county courthouse. He parked his car and ran up the stairs. When he opened the door, he heard people singing Happy Birthday. He saw Darnelle's assistant, Marie, and smiled a hello.
"Did I miss a party?"
"Yes you did, Lieutenant. One of our part time clerks. Can I help you with something?"
"Yeah. I need to see the deeds for all the addresses on this list. If you can't show me the deeds, just telling me the names of the owners would be great. I'm investigating the burglaries in the Bottoms."
"Actually, I'm in the middle of a project for Mr. Darnelle right now. But our birthday girl will be happy to take care of that for you in just a second. Let me get her."
Lonnie took a seat while he waited for Marie to bring back his help. In a few minutes, a somewhat familiar voice said, "Can I help you?"
Lonnie looked up and was face to face with Monica Styles. "Hello again, Miss Styles."
"Uh, I met you a few days ago with Willson Sweet."
Monica rolled her eyes and sighed. 'Great', she thought. On top of everything else she had going on today, she was now having an interview with Bo Duke.
"What can I do for you, Lieutenant?"
Lonnie wanted to ask her why she was working here instead of going to school. But he thought he'd better find that out on his own. He told her what he needed and she left to go into the file room. It was at that moment that Lonnie noticed that a man who had been in the waiting area hadn't moved since he came in. He also seemed to be watching Monica. Monica returned with the information he needed.
"Can I help you with anything else?"
"Nope, that'll do. Good afternoon, Miss Styles."
As Lonnie was leaving, he noticed the man go to the desk in a somewhat hurried manner and begin a conversation with Monica. A conversation Monica didn't seem too happy about. It was going on about 5 o'clock, almost quitting time for the clerk's office. He decided to wait outside and see if Monica was okay. She may be a genius, but she was only 15.
The man left the building, and at about 5:15pm, so did Monica. She looked around the square a bit nervously and began walking towards the Bottoms. Lonnie called out to her before she got too far.
Monica turned around and saw Super Cop….again. She marched up to him, put her hands on her hips and said "You know… I'm off work now. That means I don't have to be nice to you."
"Well, that's good to know. Especially, since I'm trying to be nice to you. That guy that just left…he who is he?"
"None of your business, for one. Secondly, why didn't you ask him when he left?"
"From the way he sat in the office and watched you, and judging by the look on your face when you came out, I thought it best not to ask him anything just yet. Listen, I think I ought to give you a ride to wherever it is that you're headed. I watched the guy walk to the parking lot, but I haven't seen a car move."
"I appreciate it, but I've got this under control."
"So why are you shaking?"
"I'm not shaking!"
"Okay, then you just got a chill… in the middle of April…. in Mississippi. Either way, I'm not about to stand out here and argue with a 15 year old. Get in the car!"
Monica was pissed. Nobody, not even her own mother when she was around, had ever spoken to her that way. But she did have to admit that Jamison was right. It was too damn hot to argue. She got in his car, but hurried to open the door for herself. Jamison checked the power play and found it interesting. He had just thought that he should let her open the door for herself so she would feel in control. Not only was she mean, but she appeared to be a mind reader, too.
They drove in silence for a few moments. Then out of nowhere, she spoke.
"16, "she said.
Jamison was perplexed. "What?"
"You said you weren't going to argue with a 15 year old. My birthday is today. I'm 16."
"Happy Birthday. Now you have to stop being so mean to me."
"And why is that?"
"16th birthdays are supposed to be "sweet". And I'd hate to have to arrest you for breaking the rule."
Monica tried not to laugh, but it was so corny she couldn't help it. "Okay, truce. But just for today."
"Well, I guess I better hurry up and grill you before your birthday is over. Who was that guy and what did he want with you?"
"He wants to buy my house. Not him himself. But he says some people he works for want to buy it. He's been to see me before; but I don't know why. I couldn't have sold it if I wanted to because I was a minor."
Jamison eyed her closely. "Was?"
"Yes, was. I was legally emancipated a few days ago.
Jamison suddenly shifted a little in his seat. Monica owned her house, which meant that she could be burglarized on any given night if his theory was correct. He didn't want to alarm her since he didn't know anything for sure yet, so he kept his mouth shut.
"What?" Monica asked.
"You're lying. Why?"
Damn! She did it again. Jamison wanted to deny it, especially since it pissed him off to be called a liar, even if it was true at the moment. It also bothered him that she KNEW he was lying when most people never caught it. But for some reason, he had a feeling that Monica wouldn't let him off the hook. So he filled her in on what was going on as he pulled into her driveway.
"Listen," Jamison said as he took out a card. "This is the number to the police station and me and Sweet's direct lines. If you see anything or think something's wrong, you call us. And try to be home before dark."
"Will do. Thanks, LJ."
"What did you call me?"
"I called you LJ. You should feel privileged. Most white people don't get nicknames until they've learned to rap. You're ahead of the game."
Lonnie laughed out loud, something he very rarely did. "So does this mean you like me now?"
"You're okay. For a corn-fed white boy, that is."
Lonnie sat in the driveway and watched Monica go inside her house and safely lock her door behind her. He was still laughing at his new nickname, so he didn't notice that the man from clerk's office was across the street watching as well.
Over the next few weeks, Lonnie saw Monica quite a bit. He was spending a lot of time at the courthouse on the Bottoms case and because Monica was so capable, Marie left him in Monica's hands. He was also running into her a lot at school, though he couldn't figure out why he hadn't noticed her there before.
They began to talk, not a lot at first, but somewhere into week three of his case Lonnie and Monica had found some common ground. They had both pretty much raised themselves since they had no fathers and their mothers were functionally useless. Lonnie's mother went into a severe alcoholic depression after his father died, and Monica's mother was, well, a glorified whore. And neither of them liked discussing their lives with people, except it seemed with each other. Monica also discovered that Lonnie was just as smart as she was, but being a boy he had purposely screwed up in school to keep from being called a nerd. Monica thought that was hilarious as she considered all white boys nerds no matter what they did.
People at the courthouse and at the school saw the two of them talking, but didn't seem to think too much of it. Lonnie had a way of communicating with teenagers and keeping them on the right path, so they figured he was just being his normal self. As far as Monica was concerned, they were just glad to see her talking to someone without cussing them out. No one seemed to be bothered at all by this new friendship, except for Lonnie.
He just couldn't wrap his mind around his attraction to Monica Styles. No.. not attraction, that was the wrong word. Not that he didn't think black women were attractive. He thought Althea Tibbs was beautiful and Darnelle's assistant, Marie, was cute as a button. But they were grown women. And Monica was a kid, sort of, well, technically anyway. She was attractive, VERY attractive, but no way was there an attraction. Besides, they were just friends, no different than he and Eugene Glendon. Except Gene wasn't gorgeous, smart, and didn't know his thought process inside and out. And Gene didn't call him LJ!
"Okay," Jamison thought. "There's a logical explanation for everything. Calm down and figure this one out."
He finally decided that he thought of her so often because he saw so much of her, and because of her connection to Sweet. And since he and Sweet were friends, he was obligated to show her a little special interest. Nothing more, nothing less. Besides, emancipated or not, the girl was only 16.
"Jamison, I know you're about to go off duty. But I really need the details on what you're digging up at the clerk's office." Virgil said.
"You're in luck. I finally finished up today. Sweet in there with you?"
"He sure is. Why?"
"Well, these burglaries may involve a friend of his and I thought he'd want to know."
Virgil and Lonnie walked into Virgil and the Chief's office. Sweet was standing by the door. Lonnie filled the guys in on what he found after finally organizing all of the files Monica had given him. After what he found, he also decided to clue them in on the guy he saw talking to Monica and his conversation with her.
"Did Monica give you the guy's name?" Sweet asked.
"No, but she did say that he was working on behalf of some other folks." Lonnie said.
"We need to find out who owns the houses near her. Sweet, if you don't mind me asking, exactly how do you know Monica Styles?" Virgil tried not to have any inflection in his voice, but he had met Monica several times at the school with Althea. She was a perfect combination of maturity and innocence, woman and girl...the kind of combination that could mean trouble for an otherwise intelligent man.
Sweet caught Virgil's concern and just shook his head. "Between you and Jamison here, I'm going stop investigating any cases that involve women. Look, my cousin was one of Monica's mother's playmates for a while. She would drop Monica off at my house for my Mama to baby-sit while she and my cousin, uh, did whatever it was they were doing. Monica's kind of like my baby sister. That's all. She's just a kid."
Lonnie chose that moment to speak up. "Actually, you're wrong, Sweet. Monica was legally emancipated a few weeks back.
Virgil couldn't hide his concern this time. "Which means she can now enter into contracts."
Lonnie nodded, "Which means she's probably in trouble."