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       "A Murder in Harlem", p.1

           G Miki Hayden
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"A Murder in Harlem"
A Murder in Harlem

  by G. Miki Hayden

  "A Murder in Harlem"

  by G. Miki Hayden

  Copyright 2011 G. Miki Hayden

  All rights reserved


  Miriam Obadah waited as her husband Kofi tucked his luggage carrier, display table, and merchandise back into the front hall closet of their 123rd Street apartment. Kofi then sat in his armchair in the living room, where, kneeling painfully, Miriam removed her husband’s shoes for him. Her bones creaked as she rose from the floor. Kofi had spent the day selling African crafts at the nearby Shabazz Harlem Market.

  Rather than saying “thank you,” which he never did, Kofi observed that his wife apparently was getting old.

  “Yes, husband, we have gotten old together,” she reminded him tartly. She turned to put their dinner on the stove.

  “And because you are old, I have sent back home to Ghana for a second wife.” He spoke loudly as if Miriam were deaf in addition to having a touch of arthritis, along with occasional, frightening, bouts of night sweats.

  She turned back. Tears of surprise and hurt came to her eyes.

  “A new wife will be good for us both,” Kofi observed. “She will take care of the two of us in our old age.”

  Kofi’s wife of 35 years curled her lip. She didn’t want to mention right here and now that only men who could afford to do so were able to marry and support second wives.

  They brought Nana Mensah home from the airport on the bus, Miriam all the while casting brief, evaluating glances at the new wife. The girl was good-looking, but had been married once before, and was thus considered spoiled goods. Kofi had attended school with the girl’s father, so money Miriam and Kofi might have used for household purposes had gone to the Mensah family to compensate for the loss of their daughter. The plane trip alone had also cost more than eight hundred dollars.

  Miriam would have pointed to well-known sights along the way, if she had been familiar with any of them. She only knew the blocks nearest her own home; so, after inquiring about her new co-wife’s comfort in traveling, Miriam sat in an unbroken silence. Kofi, of course, was never prone to speech at all.

  For the first month, the girl, Nana, slept every night in her new husband’s bed, of great annoyance to Miriam at the start of the cooler season. She herself remained in the living room on the couch, which made her feel twisted in the morning.

  Then, somewhere at the start of the second month, Kofi said the girl slept restlessly, and he asked Miriam back into his bed. The girl took the couch. Still, Miriam didn’t feel completely reconciled with the situation. When she and Kofi had originally married, he had never said he intended to take more wives. After the first number of years, and after their move to the United States, she supposed he wouldn’t. Now he had.

  At the 28th Precinct on Eighth Avenue (better known in Harlem as Frederick Douglas Boulevard), detectives Russo and Sheldon had gotten a call to the scene of a homicide on 123rd Street near Marcus Garvey Park. Russo grunted in disgust. “Louses up the precinct stats,” he remarked to his partner. “This puts us one ahead of last year and we have two months left.”

  Sheldon shrugged, though Russo always thought his partner, who was black, ought to be more concerned about high crime in a black neighborhood. “Never going to get it to zero,” Sheldon said. “Who’s the killer?” He looked at Russo expectantly.

  Unlike on television, half the murders they took charge of were solved by the time they arrived at the scene. Russo and Sheldon would pull up, and some poor jerk was already sitting sullenly in cuffs in a cop car. Murders were like that more often than not. The killer was in too great a shock to try to get away, or his exit was ridiculously faulty.

  Russo shook his head. No killer had been apprehended this time. Or, at least if so, Russo hadn’t been told. The two detectives drove to the scene.

  Opening the door to two policemen in dark suits was frightening to Miriam. She didn’t know anything about the law, but she knew the feeling in the neighborhood was that the police were not to be trusted. Her husband, Kofi, was at home, but of what use was he? She worried that the men might brutalize the two vulnerable women even with their husband present.

  Since Miriam spoke English well, she had to deal with the situation herself. “Yes?” she asked. Her mouth was dry. She was thinking of ways to explain herself and their living arrangement. She understood that having more than one wife was against the law here. And whether the three of them lived in this country legally or illegally, she couldn’t be sure. Kofi liked to keep his business to himself.

  “Sorry to bother you, Ma’am,” the black one said. His soft words didn’t offer a shred of comfort to Miriam, however. She had no idea what tricks these men might play. First they speak kindly, then they do some ill deed. She thought with worry of her nest egg under the mattress. “They’ve had some trouble in the building. May we come in?”

  This was not a happy moment. Resigned, she stood back without protest and allowed the two policemen to enter the Obadah home. The other two inhabitants of the apartment looked up.

  “My husband and our daughter,” Miriam said to the policemen, then wiped away the sweat that had collected in her eyebrows.

  “Very nice,” replied the black policeman, looking over Nana in a way that somehow pained Miriam’s sense of propriety.

  “Last night, between eight and ten, did you notice anyone strange enter the building? Hear anything unusual?” asked the white policeman.

  “No,” answered Miriam without actually bothering to think if she had.

  Both policemen looked at the other two occupants of the small living room.

  “My husband and daughter don’t speak English,” said Miriam, again without considering. The second the words had escaped her lips she worried that she had given something away. Watch out, she told herself. The less said, the better.

  “A man was killed in the apartment right below you,” the white policeman told her. “So please think carefully.”

  Miriam did think carefully. Very, very carefully. And what she thought amounted to the memory of seeing Nana smile at the man downstairs and seeing his hungry eyes fasten on the girl as if he would devour her, shoes and all, right on the spot. Men tended to look at Nana that way. And last night between eight and ten by the clock over the sink in the kitchen, neither Nana nor Kofi had been home. Neither one. Both had been missing for at least two hours.

  “We heard and saw nothing,” Miriam said first in Twi, the language of the Asante, their people—one of many cultures in their homeland—and then in English. “The three of us were here watching the television.”

  “And you didn’t hear any fights or shouts?” the white policeman checked.

  “No.” She held him with her eyes and breath. “Was he killed with a gun, perhaps? Though I heard no gunfire.”

  The white policeman shook his head while the black policeman watched her closely. “Not a gun, but a knife,” the white policeman said. He waited another moment for her to respond.

  “Ah,” said Miriam. “That is bad. Very bad.” An American killer would have used a gun. A killer from Ghana, male or female, might well have used a knife to stab.

  “So, no one killed him,” Russo suggested as they took the stairs back down to the victim’s apartment where they'd already done their initial due diligence.

  Russo could hear the voices of the crime scene unit techs issuing out into the hallway as they worked—strong male tones along with the down-to-earth accent of a woman who seemed to be holding the reins of the team—though Russo knew she was just a junior.

  “We have 48 hours to catch the killer,” Sheldon responded jovially. “They told me so on TV.” Th
e two arrived at the apartment and looked in at George Chang blowing a thin film of black magnetic powder over all the surfaces in the shabby, ancient kitchen. The decedent remained in the bedroom straight ahead, where he had been found.

  Russo expressed agreement with the 48-hour rule of thumb. “`Cause if we don’t find the killer within the first 48, we’re assigned to something else,” he concluded.

  Saturday. They could interview a few more folks in the building, he supposed—the super.

  “You think they didn’t hear anything upstairs?” asked Sheldon. “She seemed nervous.”

  “Of course she was nervous. She thought we might be the INS.”

  “The daughter is some looker,” Sheldon added.

  As if by common agreement, though not a word passed between them, the two continued on down the worn and soiled marble steps to the first floor.

  Miriam went and sat in the kitchen. She didn’t want to even see the girl’s face again the rest of today. Whichever one of them might have killed the man downstairs, the girl, Nana, had brought ruin upon all three in the family. Such was a result of Kofi’s actions.

  What on earth made Miriam so positive that one of the two had killed the man in 3A? Perhaps she’d gone crazy with her husband’s marriage to another woman. Or perhaps the cause was the change her body was going through at her time of life. The women of the Akan people, from which
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