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Authors: Gar Anthony Haywood

When Last Seen Alive

BOOK: When Last Seen Alive
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When Last Seen Alive

Gar Anthony Haywood

A
MysteriousPress.com

Open Road Integrated Media Ebook

For Tessa
With All the Bear’s Love
Te quiero mucho, baby!

I
T HAD TO SCARE THE LIVING HELL OUT OF WHITE FOLKS.
O
NE
million black men gathered as one in the streets of Washington, D.C.

From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the upper reaches of the Capitol Building, old men and little babies, fathers and sons, lifelong friends and total strangers swarmed over the Mall, basking in sunshine and peace. Some standing stone-faced, some laughing and embracing, others crying openly, wearing their tears on their faces with the pride of kings, turning in all directions so that their brothers might see how happy they were just to be here, an integral part of this celebration of black manhood known as the Million Man March.

It was a sight Elroy Covington knew he would never forget.

Which was high praise for the event indeed, for Covington was a man whose ambivalence toward his own blackness had always been unassailable. Being an African-American male had never given him any cause for cheer, any more than it had ever moved him to regret. He’d been born black out of chance, not fortune—good, bad, or otherwise—and he had always understood that. So what he was doing here on this momentous occasion, at this colossal demonstration of the very brotherhood and fellowship to which he had never been able to relate, was not easily explained. Other than to say that he’d been curious. Curious to see if his being here would by some miracle move him profoundly, give him some new and wonderful appreciation for the color of his skin he had never known before.

It didn’t, of course.

And yet, Covington did not consider the trip from St. Louis a total loss. He at least had something to tell his future grandchildren about, even if he had to tell it with all the emotional attachment of a network news reporter. He had heard the keynote speaker and chief organizer of the event, Louis Farrakhan, address the crowd, sounding brilliant and inspired one moment, delusional and paranoid the next, and he had escaped the wife and the tedium of her company for four whole days. He’d seen the nation’s capital, made a few new friends, and was finally able to use the new camera his family had given him for his birthday the previous June. Unfazed by all the hoopla as he was, Covington was glad he had come.

Then Sunday night, his last in the city, he saw a familiar face.

He was having dinner in a restaurant in Dupont Circle. A roomful of people separated them, and several years had passed since their paths had last crossed, but Covington recognized his old friend immediately. There was no mistake. He had come to D.C. fully expecting to see one or two people he knew—this many brothers and sisters in town, how could he not?—but this was something special. This was a ghost sighting, a specter from his past catching up to him in one sudden, inadvertent burst of fate.

Covington should have been afraid, but he wasn’t.

Had he turned and run from that restaurant as any reasonably cautious man in his position would have, he could have saved his wife a world of grief, and the police in two different cities a lot of paper and legwork. His friend at the distant table would have failed to see him, and the lie that had been Covington’s life for the last five years would have been his to go right on living. But Covington didn’t run. He waited to be seen and recognized first, then moved forward instead, smiling like a blissed-out fool, and in so doing guaranteed himself a small but notable place in the historical record of the Million Man March of October 16,1995.

Of all the black men who attended, Elroy Covington was one of the few who never came home afterward.

one

T
HE PHOTOGRAPHS WERE GOOD.
T
WENTY-FOUR BLACK-AND-
white eight-by-tens, shot from a number of ideal perspectives, all exhibiting the same crisp focus and dramatic clarity. Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Everson and a beautiful blonde, caught red-handed wining, dining, and otherwise romancing the hell out of each other. The private investigator who had taken the photographs over the last ten days had no name for the blonde as of yet, but her name was hardly important. What was important was that she was not Everson’s wife. Aaron Gunner figured his client would notice that little fact right away.

“This is the wrong woman,” Connie Everson said, after cursorily flipping through the photos like a walk-on looking for her one appearance in a screenplay.

“I’m sorry?”

She splashed the eight-by-tens across the cluttered surface of the black man’s desk, her disappointment all but overwhelming. “I know all about this woman,” she said. “Gil’s been seeing her for years.”

Gunner could do nothing to disguise his confusion. “I don’t—”

“Please, Mr. Gunner. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. The black city councilman without a white woman on the side hasn’t been elected yet, they practically find one their first day on the job.”

“Then who—”

“I don’t
know
who. If I knew who, I wouldn’t need
you
, would I?” Everson stood up and began smoothing the wrinkles from the skirt of her canary yellow dress, an obvious prelude to departing the premises. “You’re just going to have to keep following him. Sooner or later you’ll catch them together, it’s just a matter of time.”

Gunner watched the councilman’s wife prep herself for the long limo ride back home to Ladera Heights and found himself wondering, not for the first time, if the forty-seven-year-old politician to whom she was married had rocks in his head, wooing other women when he could be wooing his wife. Connie Everson was closer to fifty than she was to twenty, but any man who would have held that against her would have had to be blind in both eyes. She was a dark-skinned, full-bodied, raven-eyed fox, Mrs. Everson, and there wasn’t a muscle in her body she couldn’t move in such a way as to make a grown man cry. Gunner was almost crying now, just watching her play with her skirt.

“You want me to catch him with
one specific woman,”
he said, having completely missed this point eleven days earlier, when Everson had initially hired him.

“Precisely.”

“But you don’t know who this woman is. You don’t have a name, or a description …”

“Listen. It’s really very simple. The woman I want you to catch him fucking around with will be a whore. A prostitute of some kind.”

“A
prostitute
?”

“Yes. A prostitute. Or a porno star. One or the other, or maybe even both, I don’t know. She’ll be a woman who sells her body to men in one fashion or another, Mr. Gunner. Is that description sufficient for you, or do I need to go on?”

“That depends. Will any prostitute-slash-porno star do, or are we talking about one in particular?”

Everson grunted to dismiss the question, said, “We’re talking about one in particular, of course. She’ll be black, not white. Younger than myself, though she won’t look it. She’ll have a pronounced limp. And I suspect she’ll be an addict of some sort. A crackhead at the very least, or maybe even a heroin junkie. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if it was heroin.”

“I see.” Gunner scribbled out a note, looked up at his client again. “You seem to know this woman quite well, after all.”

“Know her? Why in God’s name would I know her?”

“Well …”

“I know my
husband
, Mr. Gunner. That’s who I know. I know what he likes, and I know the kind of woman he likes it from. I’m his wife, remember?” She tucked her purse securely under her left arm and said, “Now. I’m leaving. Please don’t call me down here again until you’ve taken the photographs I’ve paid you to take. Do you understand?”

It would have been polite of her to wait for him to answer, but the thought never occurred to her. She was gone before Gunner could complete the motion of standing up to see her out.

Mickey Moore, the barber in whose shop Gunner’s office space was located, came back to see him immediately afterward, just as Gunner figured he would. Mickey could pounce on a potential piece of gossip faster than most people could wink their left eye.

“That was Gil Everson’s wife, wasn’t it? The councilman over in Inglewood,” Mickey said.

“Is that right?”

“Look, just give me a simple yes or no. Was that her, or not?”

“Nice weather we’ve been having lately, isn’t it?”

“Bet she’s hiring you to follow that fool’s sorry ass around, catch him dippin’ his wick where it don’t belong.”

Gunner started scooping up the photographs on his desk, got them into a drawer before Mickey could get much more than a glimpse of one.

“You got pictures of him and that girl Chelsea, huh? The one used to be a secretary over at the courthouse?”

“Chelsea?”

Mickey nodded. “Chelsea Seymour. Ain’t but twenty-two years old. You tellin’ me Mrs. Everson didn’t already know about her? Long as those two been messin’ around?”

“Mickey, I’m not telling you
anything.
What happens back here is confidential, I’ve told you that a thousand times.”

“Councilman likes to do some weird shit in the bedroom. She tell you that?”

Gunner looked at him incredulously, overwhelmed by the depth of the man’s knowledge of all things pertinent to other people’s business. Mickey wasn’t just a barber, he was a minister of information.

“What kind of weird shit?” Gunner asked, trying not to sound as intrigued by the subject as he was.

But the bell over Mickey’s front door rang before Mickey could answer him, followed by the sound of a woman’s voice calling out for assistance.

“Hello? Anyone home?”

Mickey rushed out to see who it was, and Gunner fell in right behind him, curious.

The sister they found waiting for them in the company of Mickey’s three empty barber chairs was tall and slender, just a shade under six feet, and was dressed in stone-washed jeans and a dark blue sweater. The jeans fit her like a Navy Seal’s wetsuit. She had rich, walnut-colored skin, pitch-black eyes, and a little girl’s upturned nose, and her dark-brown hair was arranged in tight circles that fell in gentle waves to the base of her neck. Gunner suspected she was somewhere in her mid-thirties.

The sight of her nearly stopped him dead in his tracks.

“I’m looking for Aaron Gunner,” she said. “The private investigator?”

Mickey turned and pointed, said, “This is him. I’m Mickey Moore, his landlord.” Mickey stuck out his hand for the woman to shake.

“His landlord?”

“That’s right. I rent him some space in the back. He’ll invite you in there soon as he closes his mouth and stops actin’ like he’s never seen a beautiful woman before.” He looked over his shoulder at Gunner, said, “Won’t you?”

“My mouth isn’t open. Yours is,” Gunner said. “Twenty-four-seven, around the clock.” He stepped forward, shouldering Mickey out of his way, to take his turn at shaking their visitor’s hand. “Come on back, Ms ….?”

“McCreary. Yolanda McCreary.”

Gunner led her past Mickey to the beaded curtain that passed for his office door, held it open for her as she somewhat cautiously stepped through it. Mickey started to follow, but Gunner shook his head at him, stopped him dead in his tracks. “Stay,” he said firmly.

The investigator’s office, such as it was, still wasn’t much more than an empty space Mickey had no use for, but after seven years of conducting his business here, Gunner had at least finally gotten around to putting some W.H. Johnson prints up on the walls and investing in a few floor lamps that made viewing them possible. The secondhand desk, couch, and two chairs he had started with remained, looking as listless and forlorn as ever.

“Can I get you something to drink? Coffee, tea …?” Gunner offered, sitting down behind his desk as McCreary took a seat opposite him.

“No. No, thank you.”

She quickly produced a business card from her purse, slid it across the desk for his inspection. She had yet to show him anything vaguely resembling a smile. “I believe you gave this to a man named Elroy Covington,” she said. “Do you remember him?”

Gunner took the card, recognized it immediately as one of his own. “Elroy Covington?” The name was vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place it. He shook his head and said, “Sorry, no.”

“I’m not certain, but I think you met him at the Million Man March. In Washington, D.C., last October. You were there, weren’t you?”

The very question brought a flood of memories down on Gunner, sights and sounds captured over three days’ time he would take with him to his grave. He couldn’t recall the scenario that involved a man named Elroy Covington, but he did remember now why Covington’s name was familiar to him. “Covington’s the missing person. The one the police here were asking about a month or so after the march.”

“That’s right. Then you do remember him.”

Gunner shook his head. “Not really, no. I only remember the police asking me about him, showing me this card, just like you are now. He was from St. Louis, right?”

“Yes.”

“But he disappeared here. In Los Angeles.”

BOOK: When Last Seen Alive
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